Desire And The Unknown In Breitbach’s Report On Bruno, Achebe’s A Man Of The People And Morrison’s Beloved

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Desire And The Unknown In Breitbach’s Report On Bruno, Achebe’s A Man Of The People And Morrison’s Beloved


This study examines the extent the conflicts in Report on Bruno, A Man of the People, and beloved can be related to Lacan’s theory of desire. It affirms that desire is fundamentally rooted in the conflicts between the characters and the Other (mother, other subjects, the law and culture or the symbolic order) because it is in the relation between the characters and the Other that desire emerges. This relation with the Other is what enables the characters to attain self-definition because it is from the Other, from the outside, that the characters gain their sense of self. Desire is crucial in Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory especially as found in his Seminar VII. For this reason, this inquiry focuses on this psychoanalytic model.

However, Lacan’s theory is a re-reading of Freud. He re-conceptualizes Freudianism using the principles of linguistics and structuralism. His orders of the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real are crucial in his theory of the subject. The symbolic order (the domain of language, law and culture) is where the subject is constituted and where desire emerges unlike the imaginary order where the ego, which is marked by error – identification, alienation and aggressivity, is found. Lacan’s notion of the real does not refer to ordinary reality but denotes something unknowable, ungraspable, an impossible encounter that ruptures the subject’s symbolic world. This is where this study derives its notion of the Real as the unknown. The unknown acts as a factor in the transformation of the characters. It is also understood as fate. A comparative criticism of these texts is carried out using desire and the unknown as conceptual tools of analysis to show that desire and the unknown contribute significantly in the conflicts between the characters and the Other thus moving this inquiry away from the psychoanalytic criticism that is commonly based on the Oedipus complex.

Although these texts belong to different cultural backgrounds, this study shows that desire is universal and cuts across class, gender or race. From the analysis of these texts, the study finds that the conflicts between the characters and the Other are based on the characters refusal to cede their desire. The effect of the desire is noticed to a higher degree in Beloved and Report on Bruno. What is considered as the ultimate ethical ground, for Lacan, is the subject’s refusal to cede her/his desire. The subject constitutes her/himself as a desiring subject by this very refusal. An act that is considered by the Other as transgressive. To institute her own law as just Sethe transgresses the existing law based on moral grounds unlike Bruno whose law can be said to contravene justice and to disregard moral laws. Odili’s law is also based on a moral ground.

In his view, Nanga has treated him as a man has no right to treat another even if he is master and the other slave. The characters have to divert their destructive impulse to objects that are approved by the social dictates or follow the path of self-destruction through their acts of transgression. Thus what enables the characters to conform to the law without giving up their desire is sublimation. A comparative study of these texts is supported by this inquiry because these texts are literary texts and belong to the same genre. The characters found in these texts can be said to be archetypal characters because they can be compared with other characters in literature.

Chapter One


In literary studies, desire is understood mainly as sexual desire or as a passion for something, for instance, a noble cause or something done for personal gain or pleasure. Desire in psychoanalytic literary criticism has been influenced by Lacan’s theory. Although Lacan’s theory is basically a re-reading of Freud, he radically re-conceptualizes Freudianism using principles of linguistics and structuralism. His notion of the unconscious as structured like a language has equally had great influence on psychoanalytic literary criticism. For him, also, the human subject is a product of language because it is preceded by language. Language is a fundamental element in the imaginary and the symbolic orders as both involve relations with the Other. It is what enables the subject to articulate her or his desire and to emerge as a desiring subject. A child’s inability to renounce her or his forbidden desire prevents the child from having a normal life.

Thus desire, in Lacan’s theory of the subject, can be said to be a factor in the making and the unmaking of the subject. It has consequences and can also be affected by the unknown. In literature, the unknown functions as fate and destiny, as that which is beyond human comprehension, that which cannot be grasped, something unspeakable and unknowable. Lacan’s concept of the ‘real’ answers to all these. According to Donna Brody in “Levinas and Lacan: Facing the Real,” the real, for Lacan, is ‘unknowable, ungraspable’ (57) and, as Alenka Zupančič points out in Ethics of the Real, it is ‘impossible’ (235). This is what the death drive aims at. Lacan postulates that the drive is both sexual and deadly and, whereas the sexual drive aims at the object a – the cause of desire, the death drive aims at jouissance, which can be destructive and harmful to the subject because it tends towards the real.

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