Beginnings: Intention and Method

by Edward W. Said

A beginning is a first step in the intentional production of meaning and the production of difference from preexisting traditions. It authorizes subsequent texts — it both enables them and limits what is acceptable… Said recognizes the novel as the major attempt in Western literary culture to give beginnings an authorizing function in experience, art, and knowledge. Scholarship should see itself as a beginning — as a uniting of theory and practice… it is about imagination and action as well as the constraints on freedom and invention that come from human intention and the method of its fulfillment.

If I long for a particular dish or want to take the mail-coach because I am not strong enough to go by foot, money fetches me the dish and the mail-coach: that is, it converts my wishes from something in the realm of imagination, translates them from their meditated, imagined or desired existence into their sensuous, actual existence – from imagination to life, from imagined being into real being. In effecting this mediation, [money] is the truly creative power. (Marx, quoted p.145, Beginnings)

Images of Deviance and Social Control, Stephen Pfohl

The story of deviance and social control is a battle story. It is a story of the battle to control the ways people think, feel, and behave. It is a story of winners and losers and of the strategies people use in struggles with one another. Winners in the battle to control “deviant acts” are crowned with a halo of goodness, acceptability, normality. Losers are viewed as living outside the boundaries of social life as it ought to be, outside the “common sense” of society itself… Deviants never exist except in relation to those who attempt to control them. Deviants exist only in opposition to those whom they threaten and those who have enough power to control against such threats. The outcome of the battle of deviance and social control is this. Winners obtain the privilege of organizing social life as they see fit. Losers are trapped within the vision of others.

…The book you are reading tells the story of one important aspect of the battle between deviance and social control. It is a story about the telling of other stories. It is a historical and sociological story about the invention and use of various theoretical perspectives on deviance. Such perspectives guide the ways we both think about and act toward deviance… This book will examine the dominant theoretical imagerty, research strategies, and practical control policies associated with nine perspectives which have, at varous points in time, captured the theoretical imagination of western society. (my emphasis)

Nine Theoretical Perspectives

  1. Demonic
  2. Classical
  3. Pathological
  4. Social Disorganization
  5. Functionalist
  6. Anomie
  7. Learning
  8. Societal Reaction
  9. Power-Reflexive

deviance and social control, Stephen Pfohl

This is to introduce you to a “power-reflexive” method of analysis. As a sociological strategy, a “power-reflexive” demands that we as researchers attempt to rigorously situate the always “partial” perspectives by which our own quests for knowledge are both facilitated and limited by our relations to power. In approaching the study of deviance from a “power-reflexive” viewpoint, this course seeks to clarify the socio-historical conditions in which influential ideas about nonconformity arise. It is also aimed at providing a critical grasp of the ways in which theoretical constructions of deviance and social control influence the economic, sex/gendered, and race/ethnic character of continuing struggles for justice in history.

Recovering Nightmares: Nineteenth-Century Gothic, Ronald Thomas; Chapter 2 of Dreams of Authority: Freud and the Fictions of the Unconscious (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1990), 71-135.

Frankenstein raises issues central to the development of the nineteenth-century novel. It is a book simultaneously concerned with constructing a self and with becoming, or failing to become, a responsible narrator — projects that the novel portrays as essentially related. Edward Said has identified a tension in the novel between what he calls “authority” and “molestation,” between the powers and the limits of self-origination. Said’s description of this tension is so appropriate to the specifics of its plot that Frankenstein {98} seems to become a model for the novel so defined: “The common pattern here is the initial rejection of natural paternity in the narrative, which then leads to a special procreative yet celibate enterprise, which in turn yields to death and a brief vision of what might have happened had the narrative and the initial act of self-isolation never been undertaken.”29 Frankenstein is the archetypal tale of a literal “procreative yet celibate enterprise” for the nineteenth century. Its plot is what Peter Brooks describes as the fundamental plot of any novel — an account of aberration from a prescribed pattern, of deviance, abnormality. According to Brooks, the novel characteristically follows a course of error which seeks to correct itself by conforming to a divine “master text.”30 Much as Freud had defined the dream event, Brooks defines the novel as a kind of cultural symptom that is also a part of the process of recovery.

Brooks claims, however, that “if the master text is not available, we are condemned to the reading of erroneous plots . . . to repetition, rereading in the knowledge that what we discover will always be that there was nothing to be discovered.”31 This is the most pessimistic view of the secular, recuperative project of the novel. The genre can also be described as expressing, as Frankenstein does, a continuing quest for a new discourse to replace the missing divine master text in the explanation of the self. The publication of a host of novelistic and quasi-novelistic autobiographies during the nineteenth century represents a sustained experiment in formulating such discourses.

Beginnings, Said

In both language and music, time imparts to composition the authority of sustained creation, the temporal duration of a prolonged world exemplified by the classical novel and the symphony. The Devil’s observation emphasizes how the parallelism between the time of an artistic composition and the dynastic continuities of nature tends historically to make the artist regard art as an unhealthy encroachment upon nature. This is the phase realized in Jude the Obscure, among other works, where compression, the collapse of time, is felt to be the more proper prerogative of art. The more compressed in his work an artist becomes, the Devil becomes, the more power he exercises, the further from miming nature and truths his art moves. Art becomes increasingly “untruth of a kind that enhances power [and] holds its own against any ineffectively virtuous truth.” The demonic artist is given (or takes) the right in his work to break through temporality, as well as the meaning that is based upon the mimesis of nature in art, in order to become “elemental.” In breaking through time, the artist grasps the absolute beginning, free of all natural, historical, and social restraints, and in so doing becomes doubly barbaric, both absolutely primitive and the representative of the absolute refinement of all history and art…

Only it is not easy actually to speak thereof — that is, one can really not speak of it at all, because the actual is beyond what by word can be declared; many words may be used and fashioned, but all together they are but tokens, standing for names which do not and cannot make claim to describe what is never to be described and denounced in words. That is the secret delight and security in hell, that it is not to be informed on, that it is protected from speech, that it just is, but cannot be public in the newspaper, be brought by any word to critical knowledge, wherefore precisely the words, "subterranean," "cellar," "thick walls," "soundlessness," "forgottenness," "hopelessness," are the poor, weak symbols. One must just be satisfied with symbolism, my good man, when one is speaking of hell, for there everything ends — not only the word that describes, but everything altogether. This is indeed the chiefest characteristic and what in most general terms is to be uttered about it: both that which the newcomer first experiences, and what at first with his as it were sound senses he cannot grasp, and will not understand, because his reason or what limitation soever of his understanding prevents him.

Here the beginning and the end are finally one, since by demonic logic a radical element in its purity is an absolute presence basically resistant to time or development…

Demons (novel), Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The title has been an ongoing source of confusion among readers unfamiliar with the work. There are at least three popular translations of the title: The Possessed, The Devils, and Demons. This is largely a result of Constance Garnett’s earlier 1916 translation that popularized the novel and gained it notoriety as The Possessed among English speakers; however, Dostoyevsky scholars said the original translation was inaccurate. These scholars argued that The Possessed “points in the wrong direction” and interpreted the original Russian title Бесы as referring not to those who are “possessed” but rather to those who are doing the possessing as “The Possessors”. Some insist that the difference is crucial to a full understanding of the novel:

It would be simpler if the title were indeed The Possessed, as it was first translated into English (and into French – a tradition to which Albert Camus contributed in his dramatization of the novel). This misrendering made it possible to speak of Dostoevsky’s characters as demoniacs in some unexamined sense, which lends them a certain glamor and even exonerates them to a certain extent. We do see a number of people here behaving as if they were ‘possessed.’ The implications of the word are almost right, but it points in the wrong direction. And in any case it is not the title Dostoevsky gave his novel. Discovering that the Russian title Bésy refers not to possessed but to possessors, we then apply this new term ‘demons’ to the same set of characters in the same unexamined way – a surprising turnabout, if one thinks of it.

As a result, newer editions of the novel are, rarely if ever, rendered under Garnett’s earliest title “The Possessed”. A more precise rendering of the Demons (Бесы) as an event and turning point in Russian history would be “The Possessing” of Russia by the demonic ideas reflected in the novel’s characters.


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