Friday, December 3, 2010

Musselwhite Extract #1: The Monster

By Tracy

Today would have been David Musselwhite's 70th birthday (he passed away in February this year). In our writers' group today we read an Emily Brontë poem he particularly admired. Now in honour and memory of David, I want to redirect people to his marvellous books, beginning with 1987's Partings Welded Together: Politics and Desire in the Nineteenth-Century English Novel.

In this book there are wonderful chapters on Austen, Brontë, Thackeray and Dickens, but for me most strikingly of all on Mary Shelley. Here's a characteristic quote from "Frankenstein: The Making of a Monster":

...the Monster confounds all classifications and identifications: it is alive and dead, male and female, master and slave, pursued and pursuer, parent and child -- all at once. Rather than allowing itself to be located in a system of classification what the Monster embodies is a radical dispersal of roles and states and a nomadic roaming across and between them. The Monster is always ahead or behind, always elsewhere, ever in a condition of migratory adjacency. Moreover the tracery of these migrations, like the scars on its body, are not the investments of limits but the openings of boundaries, the splitting of ever new laminations, the establishment of ever fresh surfaces. The Monster's wounds are not the evidence of a history but the sensitized possibility of a beginning. Or, rather, it is because there has been a history that there can be a beginning -- just as there can be identity because there is difference, or thought because there is language. One does not begin with the punctuality of a birth but the reappropriation of a scattered genesis. One begins, that is, with repetition. (pp. 69-70)

The chapter on Emily Brontë is also original, inventive and memorable -- in one of David's obituaries, UK academic Gary Day said,

"I've yet to read a better interpretation of Wuthering Heights. For my money, [David] was the best reader of literature we've had in the past 25 years."

In the book's appendix there is an extremely useful entrée to the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari, included to provide background for the way David's book draws on their work. With regard to his theoretical bases, David wrote in the introduction,

"... I have endeavoured as much to let Austen, Shelley, Brontë and the rest read Derrida, Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari as the other way around. I also happen to think that is the right way to go about things."

David was always one for the closest attention to the text, and used to joke, despite his affinities with post-structuralism, about having been a student at the "last lectures of Leavis", a legacy not easily shaken off in its best aspects.

1 comment:

Hugh said...

A lovely piece. Thank you. I had the privilege of being taught by David at Essex. He had an intense, penetrating and breath takingly original mind. He was also a very troubled soul. I don't think I'll ever forget him.