D. Levin and the Longing for Meaning in Love and Life
Invariably critics often compare the Anna-Vronsky relationship with that of Kitty-Levin, and provide numerous reasons for the failure of the first and the success of the second. My intention in this section is not to provide more reasons for each, but rather to see how the success of the latter is expressed in the discourse of the lovers.
During each meeting between Kitty and Levin, it is apparent that the characters hardly use any language to communicate about their relationship, and whenever language is used, communication is either not accommodated, or language is used to communicates something other than what the subjects intended it to communicate. My contention is that the means of communication (language or otherwise) reflect the intentionality of the communication, which at times may be outside of the communicant’s control. In Lacanian terms, language communicates not only a message but also projects the desires and fantasies of the characters. For our first example let us examine the scene at the skating rink when Levin is about to meet Kitty. We are told by the narrator that upon his visit to his brother, Levin had meant to tell him “o svoem namerenii zhenit’sia i sprosit’ ego soveta, on dazhe tverdo reshilsia na eto” (Chapter 8). And later in the same chapter, Levin decides that “dlia togo chtoby imet’ dushevnoe spokojstvie, nado bylo reshit’ to delo, dlia kotorogo on priekhal v Moskvu”, that is, to propose to Kitty.
Levin’s attitude toward marriage at this point can be compared as being very probably similar to Karenin’s when he was about to propose to Anna. Both characters looked at marriage as something one has, or needs to do. Karenin decides to get married because it is necessary for his social standing. Marriage for him is a social necessity. At this stage in his life Levin reduces the notion of marriage to an object and refers to it accordingly in his discourse. One gets the impressions that he feels that marriage does not really concern his being, does not concern him personally. Marriage is outside of his being, an ‘it’, separated from ‘I’. It is in this state of mind and from this subjectivity that he approaches Kitty at the skating rink. As Levin is about to meet Kitty, another part of him attempts to take control of his being. As soon as he approaches the Zoological Gardens he becomes “conscious of his throbbing heart”. The heart is often used as a metaphor of another, a specular image of the self. Levin is aware of the otherness of his heart – his specular other, and is in the same confused state as Anna is when she meets Vronsky, when she does not know whether the real Anna is one who married Karenin, or the one who is falling in love with Vronsky: “Am I another”, she asks herself. Levin’s conflict is expressed in his discourse as he is about to see Kitty. He begins to talk to his other, his heart: “’Nado ne volnovat’sia, nado uspokoit’sq. O chem ty? Chto ty? Molchi, glupoe’, – obrashchalsia on k svoemu serdcu.” The image of the Lacanian specular moment, and the desire of the subject to control the reflection of the self in this scene is quite obvious. As we read further, we notice that the mirror images of Levin’s subjectivity take turns in the discourse. One side of the image is that of a man who needs a wife, and finds in Kitty a suitable subject. The other side is the image of the amorous subject. The second image is represented metaphorically by the heart. The heart also competes for the attention of the same subject. Levin’s state of mind in this scene is a structural parallel to that of Anna when she first meets Vronsky at the train station, when she can’t decide if she is Anna, Karenin’s wife, or another Anna.
Even though Levin does not see Kitty yet, his heart knows that she is there: “On uznal, chto ona tut, po radosti i strakhu, okhvativshim ego serdce.” To his heart, Levin’s specular other, Kitty is also another, not the same woman that Levin was thinking of marrying. She is very unlike the subject Levin desires (wife-mother), but is a subject whose being does not belong in discourse, she is almost a holy object. The narrator tells us that, “Mesto, gde ona byla, pokazalos’ emu nedostupnoiu sviatynei” (Chapter 9). Kitty’s entire being, and especially her smile transported Levin to an enchanted world “gde on chuvstvoval sebia umilennym i smiagchennym, kakim on mog zapomnit’ sebia v redkie dni svoego rannego detstva”. For Levin’s specular other, Kitty represents the possibility (mother) of regressing to childhood, and the mirror stage, when all desires are fulfilled. Once Levin makes contact with Kitty, his discourse becomes jumbled and confused because two subjectivities are trying to communicate with Kitty simultaneously: ‘I’ and ‘heart’. When Kitty asks him if he has been there long, Levin replies: “Ia? ia nedavno, ia vchera… nynche to est’… priekhal.” This confusing response is repeated again in Chapter 13, when Levin attempts to propose to Kitty: “Ia skazal vam, cto ne znaiu, nadolgo li ia priekhal… chto eto ot vas zavisit… Ia khotel zkazat’… ia khotel skazat’… Ia za etim priekhal… chto… byt’ moeiu zhenoi! – progovoril on, ne znaia sam, chto govoril.”
Levin’s discourse is riddled with confusion that originates in the question: Do I want a wife, or a mother? Levin’s ‘I’ wants a wife, his ‘heart’ a mother. A woman, according to Lacan, can be for a man either a mother or a whore, but not both. Vronsky is attracted to Anna because she represents a whore figure for him. In Kitty Levin is looking for the mother figure. This is what he admires most about her, especially later in the novel when Kitty is pregnant. She stands for the bliss of the motherly embrace.
Throughout the novel Levin longs for a structure of meaning in love, marriage and life with which to identify. He is Lacan’s child acquiring his identity through the specular image that offers him coherence, totality, and meaning. He is jubilant when he recognizes complete symbiosis between himself and the universe around him. He desires to read signs transparently and longs for a legible universe. At the end he finds it. He tries to find signs in an inimical world that would be understandable and transparent to himself. The mirror image, of course, would be the perfect, absolute sign.
By the time Levin is ready to propose to Kitty once more, he comes to realize that he cannot experience love through language, nor can language explain the reason for his existence. Once he rejects the desire for self expression through precise representation, in other words, for the transparent rendition of experience in language, he begins to experience a totality and an identity with Kitty and with the universe around him. Levin’s second attempt at proposal, where he and Kitty are exchanging messages by writing the first letter of each word, is successful for the reason that language is rejected, and because Levin is no longer confused as to who is proposing – he or his hart, or what he wants, a wife or a mother. He likes the mother in Kitty. In this sense he is unlike Vronsky, who only wants to possess objects, and finds joy through this possession. In this moment Levin has no need for language, language is there only to embellish speech, not to deliver a message. Wierzbicka notes that “An emotion is something that is felt and not conceived verbally… An emotion cannot be rendered in words, what can be rendered in words is only some correlate of the feeling.” (502)
Levin’s rejection of language as means of knowing the other can also be seen in his attempts to find the meaning of his life. To believe that language can transmit eternal truths is like believing that the signifier and the signified are of the same essence: to believe that by possessing the signifier one can possess the signified. By the end of the novel, Levin comes to realize that “Slova eti i sviazannye s nimi poniatiia byli ochen’ khoroshi dlia umstvennykh celei; no dlia zhizni oni nichego ne davali…” (Part VIII, Chapter 8). Levin’s mirror-stage behavior is exemplified by his attempt to find, in his search for the meaning of his life, the perfect, absolute sign, or the reflection of the self, in nature. Nature gives him, as it did to Olenin in The Cossacks in the famous scene inside the stags lair, a sense of totality in which he can disappear. Through nature he experiences the motherly embrace, he feels oneness with it. Metaphorically, then, both Levin and Olenin in this ecstatic moment realize that there is no difference between the mirror and the source – the reflection and the projection. As the amorous embrace “seems to fulfill, for a time, the subject’s dream of total union with the beloved” (Barthes, 104), so nature enchants Levin and Olenin into a world that gives them coherence, totality, and meaning. Since nature (this world, universe) is identical with his personal being, Levin concludes that the infinite God must be also mirrored in him. God, the source of the reflection and the projection in the mirror, is the final signified for which Levin had searched.