“the body is an incompletion, and it desires a wholeness it does not have”

June 3, 2008 at 3:54 pm Leave a comment


I’ve been reading Sharon Cameron‘s The Corporeal Self: Allegories of the Self in Melville and Hawthorne. Cameron’s book seeks to “examine a revisionary notion of identity and of the philosophical dualism that attends it” (1). The terms of this dualism “may be predicated as body and soul, one self and a separate other, the identity of one person at a given moment in time and space as distinct from the identity of the same person at a different temporal-spatial moment” (1).

…although the works with which I am concerned examine the body’s relation to the soul and the self’s relation to the outside world (and therefore seem to invoke yet again the double terms to which I have alluded), these works then posit a third term or entity which, neither body nor soul, neither one self nor another, knits the respective entities together. The third entity, moreover, while not being material–while transcending the corporeality to include the spirit that is “outside” or “within” it–is nonetheless bodily, sometimes manifesting itself as an actual “third” person. Thus, the body of flesh and blood is complemented by a markedly different corporeality that both encompasses and transcends it. In the works I shall discuss–Melville’s Moby Dick and Hawthorne’s tales–what stands behind the body is another, different body. (1-2)

“Allegory’s solution is to externalize the split between body and soul, which can be neither wholly united nor wholly pried apart” (133).

Thus, one consequence of allegorical projection is that it unites outside the body what will not be wholly united or separated within it. A second consequence is that meaning is not lost in the separation of body from mind or self from world. Indeed, allegory insists that it is precisely in the spaces made by these separations that meaning is found. Allegory, like life, promises a meaning it simultaneously withholds. But unlike life, it delivers its meanings. It does this first by displacing the split within the self to the outside world. It alternately delivers meaning by displacing the split between the self and the world to a sphere inside the self. (133)

Cameron suggests that “if allegory is the “literary” term for the process I have just described, part-object is … the psychoanalytic term for the same process” (82). The obsession with death in American fiction can be specified as an obsession with attempted completion. Cameron is putting Leslie Fiedler‘s insight in Love and Death in the American Novel on psychoanalytic footing. If you like, fleshing it out a bit.



Entry filed under: allegory, Sharon Cameron. Tags: , .

welcome back cyndi! historic journeys

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