Meghann McCracken

Meghann McCracken

LTMO 145D/Jackson

11-9-98

Dry run mid-term/Question #2

[This is an remarkable fake midquarter essay. Note that not all red comments are bad news. Please read Meghann’s paper carefully. And then read my comments. If you understand Meghann’s paper first, then you can see the difference in

my comments here from other places. Often the questions I come up with here aren’t pointing out a failure of thought on Meghann’s part. They’re more philosophical leaps. But these leaps I take here are made possible by Meghann’s explorations, its subtleties, risks and braveries. I can’t wait to see the next version! This is what I meant by having a conversation. And notice how much the common vocabulary facilitates it? My interventions are in red, as usual. Earl]

Authenticity and Subjectivity:

Fools and The Talented Mr. Ripley

The worlds of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley and Pat Cadigan’s Fools privilege performance over authenticity [Good beginning.]. Tom Ripley is neither caught within nor condemned [not en masse, anyway] by The Talented Mr. Ripley’s narrative for [syntax – what is the „for“ doing here?] murdering people and assuming false identities. Within Fools, the nature of identity is an approximation [a variable one at that], one is held culpable for actions [I think you’re mixing up legal tangles with philsophical ones here. To hold someone culpable is one of the traditional means by which {and for which} identity is „fixed“ or „stablized.“] which were mostly committed by one „one“ and „one“ have to be the same person in this sentence, which you couldn’t, [and it’s also Alice in Wonderland talk.], or committed mostly by one. The privileged nature of performance is literalized within the landscape of Fools [very good!], no one is only what they seem to be [is that peculiar to the novel? How many people are only what they seem to be. This is only a conversational aside, but I have point that I can go into later.], and many individuals (subjects) are personality overlays [NO- no individual is an overlay. An overlay is software that is programmed to believe it is a certain personality once that software has been probperly activated within a human brain. Basically individuals are still rooted to the human body. Personae have no real past and no autonomous corporeal extension.] in a world in which actors become prototypes for identities consumed by the masses [THIS is excellent – this last line in the sentence.].

Benveniste’s theory of linguistics, as stated [odd passive – it makes it sound as if it wasn’t Benveniste who „stated“ it. ] in Problems in Modern Linguistics, suggests [that] the self is constructed through language. The words „I“ and „you“ have no referentially [no reference outside of the reality of the specific discourse in which those words were uttered.] and therefore no meaning outside of a specific context. Within the context of Fools, subject pronouns have little to no meaning in the dealings between characters [Very good!]. Within the narrative, identity is signified by performance [good], outside of the narrative, outside the narrative[is there an outside to this narative? And if so, what is it in the novel that can venture out into the reader’s space?}, in communication with the reader, it is signified by a change in font, not in pronouns [Ah ha! You got me! I see exactly what your mean.]. However, within the narrative of The Talented Mr. Ripley, the fallacy of subjectivity [what do you mean by the „fallacy of subjectivity“? Without context this implies you’re going to argue that subjectivity doesn’t exist – it’s a mistake. I like the phrase though, so let’s make it mean something specific and useful.] is presented in a figurative way [all subjectivity in a novel must be presented figuratively since the novelist has to create „subjects“ using only combinations of words.]. Tom never becomes Dickie like the minds which merge in Fools, [I see you mean the identity-switching IN THE PLOT NOT the construction of subjectivity in the narrative.] but for all intents and purposes he is Dickie. [But not as much as Bernard later becomes Derwatt.] When he is confronted with other subjects, who have not made associations between the name Dickie Greenleaf and the body of the man who previously owned the identity, he is Dickie. [Goood] Within both texts identity becomes a fallacy [identity is always a fallacy. And besides this sounds like it’s the fallacy of the perpetrators, but it’s the fallacy that the perpetrators encourange in others regarding the perpetrators „stolen“ identity.] and therefore something which can be commodified, bought, sold and stolen [I think this is right, but it’s a bit of a leap here.].

„Everywhere I looked in Davy Jones’ Locker, I saw me, or people who wanted to be me. And the club wasn’t even half full yet. I knew I was going to love being Famous.“ (1) The „I“ in Fools is never completely defined [Unfortunately, it is sort of is defined at the end, but I ignore that part of the ending too.]. Sometimes [it’s potentially always clear, meaning that once you have the plot situations and the characters understood you can go back and realibly identify each person and each persona. Therefore there is never a case where the identity is an undecidable {as, for instance, in Beckett’s trilogy.] it is clear who the person who is talking thinks she is, but more often than not she is wrong [That’s right! But Brain police are trained not to recognize their cover. They’re supposed to be wrong.]. The woman speaking in the afore cited passage thinks she is Marva, a method actress who has recently franchised her identity through an organization called Some Very Nice People [But remember, Marva never existed. You’re identifying her simply as a „method actress“ will mislead your reader.]. In this scene many other people look just like she thinks she looks, [You have a very good eye for detail. This is an important contradiction in the Davy Jones Locker Scene, but you need to keep your wits about you to be able to visualize the scenae lucidly enough to understand the problem AND the irony that she is the only one who DOESn’t look like the persona she thought she was and sold – she is the only one who wouldn’t get [mis-]recogniized as the „original“ of the persona every one else was merely „wearing.“ ] and believe themselves to be others, while she looks nothing like the person she believes herself to be [And in a way she’s not wrong, or at least she has more right to think she is who she thinks she is than those others who think they are who she thinks she is, although they look the part and she doesn’t], which she sees being displayed by everyone else. In this passage the word „Famous“ is capitalized which signifies that it is describing an individual subject. Being Famous [it means they signed a franchise deal.the capital letter is like a trademark or copyright.], in the world of Fools, is the only time one can be sure of one’s own identity[ very good, but you need to explain this a little more – what „being entails“ but you point is good.], while ironically, it means one’s identity is completely quantifiable, replicable and marketable and, therefore, unoriginal [Just like the „artist’s truth“ of Derwatt’s „identity,“ or Dickie Greenleaf’s signature.]. In the world of Fools, the word „Famous“ is compatible with Benveniste’s definition of subject pronouns. „Famous“ has no referent, it is, antithetically, the deconstruction of the referent it seeks to describe.[These are WONDERFUL CONNECTIONS – you spring them out so easily that at first they seem eccentric, but then logic catches up with the association. ]

In The Talented Mr. Ripley, identity can be deconstructed like the franchised personalities within Fools. After Tom kills Dickie he begins to perfect assuming Dickie’s identity. Rather than striving to be a perfect Dickie, Tom strives to be Dickie with all of his imperfections. Individual imperfections become the mark of the original. Identity is presented as a series of signifiers and the imperfections therein which constructs the individual subject. [Wonderful1!!]

…Tom thought his Italian was on a par with Dickie’s. He remembered verbatim several sentences that Dickie had said at one time or another which he now knew were incorrect. …Dickie had never used the subjunctive as often as it should be used in Italian. Tom studiously kept himself from learning the proper uses of the subjunctive. (136)

In accordance with Benveniste’s theory of the constitution of the subject, Tom chooses to become Dickie, primarily through the mastery of Dickie’s language. If he can convincingly speak as Dickie, using the relative terms of „you“ and „I“ he can successfully become Dickie [Reread the mirror seen between Tom, the reflection and Dickie who catches him. Note the trajectory of the „you’s“ in Tom’s monologue.]. The way Tom masters Dickie’s language is through learning Dickie’s imperfections. Tom is aware of the fallacy of subjectivity [This is very true! We’ll really see this in Ripley Under Ground.]. He is aware of what constitutes Tom Ripley as much as he is aware of what constitutes Dickie Greenleaf. He doesn’t like to be „Tom“ so he only assumes that identity when he has to. „He began to feel happy even in his dreary role as Thomas Ripley. He took pleasure in it, overdoing almost the old Tom Ripley reticence with strangers,[This is so well done!] the inferiority in every duck of the head and wistful, sidelong glance.“ (194) Tom is like the empty shells of people in Fools who are in a state of „mind to mind,“ their eyes removed and subjectivities disrupted. Tom is aware of the persona of „Tom Ripley“ which he shares with the world. This Tom is not the persona to whom the narrator refers. The Tom the narrator refers to is the sociopath which emerged from the trauma of the first persona. In Fools, the fragmentation of the subject is a culturally imposed means of entertainment and mandated surveillance, while in The Talented Mr. Ripley the subject is only a series of signifiers which need another subject in order to be intelligible. Within the world of the novel, this series of signifiers can only be decoded, however, by a mind which is already split due to trauma.

In Fools it is not terribly significant who anyone is [Wow another that you make a claim, whose reasonableness hadn’t occurred to me until seeing it here. What a great surprise].. Because memories are a commodity and therefore there are those who are addicted to them [borderline non-sequitur but it could be defended], who one originally was becomes less and less important. When Bateau (a memory pimp) comes after Mercine [NOPE -that’s Marcelline’s body but Mercine was in there for awhile, but she had her own until Marva2 achieved „excape velocity.“ (the body of a memory junkie which houses many personalities)] it isn’t significant to him that the dominant personality isn’t Mercine [Mercine is the brain cop. Bateau is lookng for Marcelline.]. Within her is a fragment of Mercine and without her [use of „without“ is technically correct but practically confusing] the body of Mercine, which is all that matters for his purpose, which is to punish a her [No – he wasn’t simply to hit any woman that comes along. He wants his trained employee back, (Marcelline_ and he wants any kind of secrets that Mercine may have left in the host brain.] . „She“ performs fear, therefore „he“ performs rage [You need to set up the scene, quote from it and site source. I can’t tell which you mean with this sentence.]. The pronouns here have no referent, the „he“ and „she“ are not significant [No, you can’t do that since it is a specific instance of discourse the pronouns have a referent. But more confusing – you haven’t quote any scene where the two of them use any pronouns at all so the „he“ and „she“ you declare without referents refers to the „he“ and „she“ you yourself had just inserted into your essay. Its straw droid. Lastly, remember, the shifters are only completely discourse-dependent for the first and second peerson, the third person can be a „historical“ other and thus have a continuous referential value. You needn’t worry about this now, however. I think giving us the scene you’re talking about will solve the problems.]. The actions and reactions of the individual subjects exist only in the present [a leap you mean the performances of the „I“ of subject exist within the specific „now“ of that discursive event in which the „I“ performed. But you can’t get there from here., and it’s hard to make a case for actions only being real in a specific present, when memories are so fluid and make up so much of who each person thinks he or she is.] , as opposed to being based on a particular history agreed [histories don’t‘ have to be „agreed upon“ and in fact, usually arent‘.] upon by the two subjects.

By the end of Fools, Mercine’s body no longer exists [probably but who got whacked is never cleared but I think you’re right.], and part or a version of her personality exists within Marceline’s [you have these names reversed] (the brain police officer who once inhabited her body) body. Who this subject is, is unclear and has gone through so many permutations that she could never really be identified, [great! Just recognize the deliberate paradox in your sentence here, I know it’s intention and it’s fine, but be prepared to be able to defend it from skeptics.] yet she lives on. The world of Fools does not allow for subjectivity to exist [What do you mean? It’s a breeding ground of subjectivities!!! And what would people in world be without subjectivities? Not people, not conscious beings. What did you have in mind? ], the impossibility of subjectivity is embodied by the protagonist who ceases to be a subject [You lost me here – if she ceased to be a subject, she’s not the protogonist, and not anything except either dead or a member of the British royal family.]. In The Talented Mr. Ripley the impossibility of subjectivity is presented in Tom, who successfully becomes Dickie and is not caught [This is a demonstration in the wild possibilities of subjectivity.]. If there is no one who ever saw the first owner of the Dickie persona [ha ha – good anachronistic party mix here], no one will ever know he is not the original. The concept of authenticity needs a subject and an object who can agree on a history in order to perceive the reality of the present. [ very good.] Because he performs Dickie believably to uncontextualized or poorly contextualized subjects, he is Dickie.

Both texts use a logic which seeks to disprove the concept of identity. The identities within in Fools are never real until they have been sold or stolen [Lovely!!]. The masses have sold and borrowed each others memories to the point of not knowing who they, themselves, are. The identities of the „Famous“ become extremely valuable, and because these identities can be replicated, they cease to be identities. The characters are pulled from different bodies so often that they change throughout the text and, although they still live, are literally not the same people as they were in the beginning of the book. In The Talented Mr. Ripley Tom becomes Dickie within the text because there is no other subjectivity within it which can prove that he is not. In accordance with Benveniste’s theory of language forming subjectivity Tom and Dickie are only separate people when they are being experienced by a subject who has a frame of reference in which to fit them[ yikes cool!]. The logic of The Talented Mr. Ripley suggest that identities only exist in relation to other identities, they are nothing in and of themselves. However, unlike in Fools where even the reader does not know who anyone is, readers are subjects who have a frame of reference, and therefore know Tom does not equal Dickie.

[Meghann, this is an extraordinary paper – thoughtful, provocative, rich, and really inventive. You run into some snags midway through, but easily correctible and you sail over the finishline Ill be happy to discuss this with you tommorrow if you like. If you can do this on

a fake midquarter, just think what you could do on a