The Turn of the Screw: The Subject and the Ontological Status of the Real Gaze *
- Author: Kim Kyung-Soon
- Publish: The Journal of English Language and Literature Volume 57, Issue6, p999~1016, Dec 2011
The Turn of the Screw, the governess encounters with the apparitions that harrow her throughout the story: she sees a frightening male ghost that Mrs. Grose identifies as Peter Quint, deceased former valet of the children’s uncle, who had previously shared the charge of the children with the previous governess, Miss Jessel. The appearance of the ghosts hails the governess and thereby forces her to be jarred out of the comfortable habits of individuality and plunged into a negativity devoid of the socio-normative directives and guarantees. Such an encounter shows the idea that consciousness is a plenum of existence evocative of human mind as a decentered pandemonium. For the governess in The Turn of the Screw, the foundation to force her to experience the uncanny, as an inconsistency in the symbolic order, is particular. Its particularity is absolute in the same way every one of us dreams his or her world. It resists mediation and cannot be made part of a symbolic medium. Just as Lacan’s conceptions of desire, feminine sexuality, ‘Object a,’ not-whole, slavery, mastery, self-deception, authenticity, and act of psychoanalysis help us understand our contradictory social reality, so does The Turn of the Screwhelp us make sense of the way the governess, as the being who is capable of raising the question of being, questions the idea of being. In conclusion, the particular way the governess dreams her world is evocative of an excessive being, an anatomical complement, and a particular experience, such as the governess’s encounter with the ghosts testifies to a knowledge that escapes the knowledge of the speaking being.
Fear(Possession) , ‘Object a , ’ para-being , Real gaze , act of psychoanalysis
One of the most striking features of
The Turn of the Screwis the way in which the governess encounters with the ghosts. When the governess confronts the world of Bly, her first experience is that of a mystery which is impossible to penetrate. The Turn of the Screwshows a free indirect discourse, a mode of provocative narration in which a first-person narrator, the governess, tells us in an unfiltered way about what she is thinking and feeling regarding her encountering with the ghosts.
What does the governess do? She creates her own writing, holding a privileged perspective from which no one can match her capacity to encounter with the ghosts. What is the secret of the governess’s encounter with the ghosts? Unlike the governess, Mrs. Grose, as a reader, is attracted by the mythical aspects of the governess’s ghost story. What is more, the governess believes she is engaged in a battle with the ghosts for the children’s souls. The governess’s uncanny act consists in including in the world of Bly the very object that must be excluded: the figure of the ghost. Her struggle is illustrated in her desperate cry to the ghost, the previous governess Miss Jessel: “You terrible miserable woman!” (
TS88). Such a speech has at once a literal and metaphorical force. On one plane of language, the governess’s remark shows the fear of facing the object of desire when she is spellbound by Miss Jessel who seems to be a wanderer in the dusk, a lost soul hidden from history in the margins. On another level, her speech suggests a chilling undertone free from the moorings of ordinary affairs, as true passion could break any chains. The effect of the governess’s act is that she breaks down: the very support that might enable her to live her life as meaningful is taken from her.
It seems that what the novel depicts is the confrontation between the governess and Mrs. Grose. A ghost-related experience has some meanings for the governess that it does not have for Mrs. Grose. Such an event, that is, a real sighting at the ghost exists and signifies while it is being read by the governess, and, therefore, what it signifies depends on when it is read by the governess. One might say that the governess as the narrator sets a standard of the real gaze linked to the enigmatic affects in which the governess repeatedly encounters with the ghosts. In case of the governess, the gaze has a weapon far more effective than voice, as if the gaze were the voice at its purest. Her uncanny experience threatening the integrity of the signified (sexual) body insists in the body beyond its sexual being.
Indeed, part of what Jacques Lacan found in Freud’s writings touches the truth of subjectivity: located beneath the level of everyday consciousness, there is a realm bearing a relation to our everyday world and containing the beyond of desire—the truth excluded by the symbolic order but manifested in everyday life in the form of the dream, the slip, and the real gaze or voice (‘object
a,’ as Lacan has termed it, originates in the small a of the mirror stage). With relation to the real like frightening experiences dissociated from conscious awareness and voluntary control, Lacan questions the very idea of being, and thereby the idea of essentialism. The term ‘truth’ refers not only to the contradicting relations between reality and its negation but also to that negation as a moment (not-whole) (Lacan, Seminar XX56) of a whole. The negation is, as Hegel puts it, a moment of a whole of which it is a constitutive part (quoted in Huson 57).
The appearance of the ghosts hails the governess and thereby forces her to be jarred out of the comfortable habits of individuality and plunged into an abyss devoid of the socio-normative directives and guarantees. One might say that this is the process contrary to the positive and functional dimensions of the symbolic order and implies a sort of second nature quietly and effectively governing the flow of the governess’s life in socially and linguistically mediated reality. For Lacan, the real gaze, as ‘object
a,’ reappears as a foreign body, as a threat to the subject’s existence. Hence ‘object a,’ such as the real gaze or real voice is a ‘remainder of being’ (Lacan, Seminar XI189-205) or ‘para-being’ produced with the advent of sexual being. If one maintains that body, nature, and world are the organically integrated substances in which the functions of their various constituent elements are co-ordinated and operate in tandem, then one must deny the existence of para-being or the paradox of human existence itself. The governess’s encounter with the ghosts leads the readers to consider the function of the real gaze which is irresistible in the narrative. Freud states the general formula for the structure concerning the uncanny as follows: “such an uncanny effect is often produced when the distinction between imagination and reality is effaced, as when something that we have hitherto regarded as imaginary appears before us in reality” (quoted in Pfaller 207).
On the other hand, however, leaving behind this contradiction of human existence, Priscilla Walton takes the approach of gender criticism. The first Bedford Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism edition of
The Turn of the Screwcontains only one reading of James’s story in relation to woman’s sexuality by Prischilla Walton. Walton elucidates James’s narrative by discussing the governess’s fantasy of suddenly encountering with the master on a walk and becoming the object of his smiling and approving gaze, as well as her subsequent sighting of Peter Quint, standing very erect on a phallic tower and peeping at her (Walton 310). According to Walton, visual acts—such as sighting, gazing, and peeping—serve as markers of sexuality. Mastering or appropriating Quint’s gaze, as the governess attempts to do on several occasions, involves assuming a position of male authority. But this idea of Walton leaves behind female subjectivity linked to the real gaze and does not tell us about something within being, as a ‘remainder of being’ as well.
For this reason, my study focuses on the ontological status of the real gaze and its implication in
The Turn of the Screwin terms of Lacan’s theory of the real that questions the idea of being. Section II will deal with the real like a loophole or structural inconsistency of the symbolic order, as in an interruption, a break in a discourse or everyday life. Section III will consider the governess’s inexhaustible sensibility in terms of the act of psychoanalysis, as the act of the real. A psychoanalytic act changes the very parameters of the social world, as opposed to ‘action’ that simply moves within the very given parameters of a particular social order. In other words, in case of the governess, such a psychoanalytic act transforms a mere human individual into an almost inhuman subject. In a sense, the governess becomes a cold monster deprived of human emotions through her inexhaustible sensibility, and this implies the impasse of desire in the same way the analysis encounters with the obstacles.
If we want to meet God, we read the book of “Genesis” that has a great deal to say about the origins of the universe. Genesis introduces us to the main character of the Bible: God. Also, if we want to meet and understand the governess in
The Turn of the Screw, we can read chapter I of The Turn of the Screw. It is because the following description of chapter I foreshadows her relations with the ghosts and further, her boldness to push Miles to the death.
When the governess sighted the ghost for the first time, however, the picture changes completely: confused, the governess wonders what sort of mystery Bly might hold, and she even claims that the children know and are keeping things to themselves, lamenting that the children are lost beyond the control. Moreover, the governess keeps asking Mrs. Grose in a confrontational way to win her as well as the readers over in chapter VII, with relation to her assertion that Miles and Flora have been corrupted by the ghosts. The following description echoes her most absurd symptom in which she wants to believe that the children have been corrupted by the ghosts and her desire to possess the children by an irresistible impulse.
The governess remains confronted by a difficult situation in which she cannot play a satisfactory part. The governess’s encounter with the ghosts, that is, the uncanny experience of the governess is evocative of Lacan’s theory of the real gaze as a threat to human being’s existence. For Lacan, the real gaze is a central component of the ‘death drive.’ Also, it seems that the governess’s disgust at Miss Jessel following the encounter with the ghost Miss Jessel covers up her social impotence. In order to account for this emotional outburst of the governess, we should bear in mind the basic anti-Darwinian lesson of psychoanalysis emphasized by Lacan: man’s radical disadaptation to his environs. At its most radical, being human consists in dissociation from immersion in one’s life, in ignoring the demands of adaptation to life. The death drive as a self-sabotaging structure represents the minimum of a behavior detached from the utilitarian-survivalist attitude (Žižek,
The Parallax View231). The Turn of the Screwworks to subvert the normal passages of time, as embodied in the governess’s encounter with the ghost involuntarily. One might say that The Turn of the Screwdepends on “the strategy of the real,” “meanings delayed, partially filled in, stretched out.” It is because the plot of The Turn of the Screwseems to be analogous to the syntax of meanings that are temporally unfolded and recovered, meanings that cannot otherwise be created or understood. This helps us to clarify that the real linked to contradiction or aporia is related to why we have and need narrative, and the relations of tellers and listeners, narrators and narratees, regularly enact the problematic of transmission. In this respect, Sartre’s reflections touch on how the artificer hides, or glosses over the contradiction as a literary aporia (Brooks 29). Desire is a concept too broad, too fundamental, almost too banal to be defined. Yet perhaps it can be described: we can say something about the forms—real gaze, real voice as the cause-object of desire—that desire takes in narrative, how it represents itself, the dynamic it generates like governess’s encounter with the ghost.
After she is sick of Henry Fielding’s
Ameliathat does not represent the realistic aspect of psychic life, the governess faces the ghost Miss Jessel and satirizes Victorian reticence about the mysterious matters like the ghost. The following description indicates that the governess shows a real concern for the ghost and reacts to the ghost with sympathy.
Expressing disgust at the ghost, her exclamation “You terrible miserable woman!” (
TS88) is, nevertheless, packed with energy. From then on, the governess has a strong feeling that she must stay on at Bly. As such, ‘object a’ (the real gaze) such as her encounter with the ghosts functions in a mode of an impossible excess haunting reality. It is also an irrepressible remainder that the governess cannot separate itself from. One might say that this is a ‘surplus’ of being, that is, what Lacan calls the subject’s anatomical complement (Lacan, Reading Seminar XI273). For this reason, Lacan questions the very idea of being as a rational Logos. ‘Object a’ such a real gaze is manifested in the forms of an interruption, a break in a discourse or everyday life, as in a real sighting what the governess does not consciously intend to gaze. The governess’s encounter with the ghosts breaks through into her life, interrupting her reading and train of thought. Recall, for example, Freud’s legislator opening a meeting of parliament with the words: “I hearby declare this meeting adjourned.” The repressed desire breaks through into the social discourse, creating a slip of the tongue, that is, saying what he does not intend to say, as in Freud. One can insist on the metonymic notion of desire, as it follows a perpetual substitute of one object for another, beginning not with any original object, but with something that was already a kind of substitution (the so-called Vorstellungsrepräsentanz1). The fundamental insistence on desire brings with it an equally fundamental insistence that desire is never satisfied. The proof is that its moments of disappearance— aphanisis2— are catastrophic. This helps us clarify what Lacan meant when he attacks on the object-relations school. The spirit of this attack on the object-relations school turns on the notion of the object of desire. For the object-relations school to admit the existence of the object of desire is also to imply that the desire for it can be fully satisfied.
The real gaze like the governess’s encounter with the ghost directs subject’s desire or psychical energy. One might say that the governess’s point of view suggests the dialogic and centrifugal nature of desire and draws readers into her orbit of narrative. Although the death of Miles, a healthy child, from mere mental shock seems almost as unbelievable as the existence of evil ghosts, the power of the feminine sensibilities depicted in governess’s experience of ghosts marks a point of loophole, the world of otherness of self.
The Turn of the Screwviews the subject as a point at which signification fails and insists on an essential disjunction, an insurmountable gap at the heart of the human condition. Lacan mentions this gap or an original discord in ‘Aggressivity in Psychoanalysis.’
In Lacan’s work, the negative libido is constantly connected to Heraclitus, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, and Heraclitus’s anticipation of the ‘death drive’ (Evans 33) as an attempt to go beyond the reality principle to the realm of excess of human mind is the source of Lacan’s favorite reference to Heraclitus.
1This Vorstellungsrepräsentanz —that is the representational representative — is the idea of representation that Freud developed in his articles, “Repression,” “The Unconscious,” and the key to the representation is nothing but the drive, that is, the affect that is its non-objectal, non-representational “representative.” (Borch-Jacobsen 100) 2aphanisis, as a newly-coined word by Ernest Jones, indicates the eclipse of desire.
The Turn of the Screwconfronts us with an interpretative dilemma: the governess’s encounter with the ghosts. It revolves around the question of seeing and not seeing the ghosts. The governess opens our eyes so that we may see uncanny things in narrative. It is because the governess related to an enigmatic affect pushes hardest to change our point of views to see the world. An enigmatic experience of the governess leads the readers to the beyond of desire. Lacan formulates the ‘beyond’ of desire in terms of the subject’s relation to ‘object a,’ the real gaze. For Lacan, the foundations of the ontological edifice contain cracks. In other words, the real is not harmoniously at one with itself. Why is this thesis so crucial? Why is it essential for advancing the relationship of the subject to being? Throughout the history of philosophy, truth has often been seen as some kind of correspondence—of proposition to fact, of concept to reality. For Lacan, however, truth’s correspondence is a logical impossibility linked to the real. In Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, Richard Rorty also faces the impasse of desire, as in the real. The impasse of desire suggests the ethical attitude proper to the ‘ironist,’ in Rorty’s sense of the term, as opposed to the ‘metaphysician.’—He uses ironist to name the sort of person who faces up to the contingency of his or her own most central beliefs and desires (Rorty x v)—.
Indeed, it seems that the governess, as an ironist, faces up to her own most central beliefs and desires, delinking knowledge and truth. Psychoanalysis itself becomes the science of ‘object
a’ once the subject realizes that this object represents the limitation of every science. Freud points to the logic of a science of the real when he states, in An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, that reality is itself unknowable (53-54). Furthermore, if the knowledge of analysis itself is to be equal to its object, this knowledge cannot be reduced to the comfort of a self-knowledge, but rather it must be related to the discomfort of the object which is the negation of the ego. This opposition between analysis centered on the modification of the ego and analysis based on the presence of an obstacle or ‘object a’ finds its reason in the Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, where Freud explains why he does not center his description of neurosis on the behavior of the ego ( Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis380). As he argues, instead of inquiring how analysis effects a cure, we should ask what are the obstacles which this cure encounters. Freud criticizes the concentration on the psychology of the ego and favors an analysis of the obstacles to the cure. These obstacles can be symbolized by ‘object a’ which also represents the incurable and uninterpretable part of analysis (Freud, Therapy and Technique238-39).
In this section, I will explore the implications of an uncanny experience, as embodied in the governess of
The Turn of the Screw. In other words, I will consider the governess’s inexhaustible sensibility in terms of the real. It is because the governess questions the very idea of being, and thereby the idea of essentialism. The act of psychoanalysis, as the act of the real, refers not only to inexhaustible sensibility, but also to negation, contradiction or the paradox of human existence itself. Such a psychoanalytic act changes the basis of reality, as opposed to ‘action’ that simply moves within the very given parameters of a particular social order. The governess performs the most real deed in the tragedy, that is, the act of psychoanalysis that turns the world of Bly upside down. The governess reads Miles to death by detecting Miles’s relation with Quint. Her own interpretive act of violence is as follows.
One might say that this act shows her escape from the mechanism of her job, the way out from all the symbolic roles that she has assumed. She is left, defeated, having failed at her job of caring for the children. The children, who are either dead or damaged, are the victims of the conflicting forces within the consciousness of the governess. In this respect, we find the echo of Leo Tolstoy’s notion of human mind as a decentered pandemonium in Lacan’s theory of the real—the Freudian topic of the death drive—, as embodied in the governess’s escape from the adaptation to her environs. Therefore, what the text dramatizes is ‘the split of human existence’ or a ‘surplus of being’ the governess faces, in relation to fear or possession. Lacan points out that this possession is not the good that we don’t want to lose (quoted in Zupančič 177). According to Lacan, it is this fear(or possession) that enslaves us and makes us accept all kinds of sacrifices. Also, according to him, fear or possession is of symbolic nature, which is what makes it so hard to give up. My study is not an attempt to reflect the ghost-related event mimetically, but to produce it as an object of knowledge that transforms its readers so that they are forced to acknowledge subject’s relation to the excessive ‘remainder of being’ haunting reality. The governess’s uncanny encounter with the ghosts implies ‘something within being,’ an excessive ‘surplus of being’ related to fear. For this reason,
The Turn of the Screwmay be seen as acting out the premises of Lacan’s the real gaze. ‘Object a,’ such as the real gaze and real voice, is a ‘remainder of the being’ (Lacan, Seminar XI189-205) produced with the advent of sexual being.
An incredible important theoretical issue of direct concern to Lacanian psychoanalytic metapsychology is at stake here: the very conditions of possibility for the emergence of a para-being (Johnston 35). A remainder of the being is, as a para-being, asexual life, nonsymbolized flux of jouissance. ‘Object
a’ as a remainder of the being is understood to represent the placenta, the part of himself that the individual loses at birth (Lacan, Seminar XI198/180). Masculine and feminine structures are, in some sense, distinguished in terms of subject’s relation to the real, a remainder of the being. In Seminar XX, a series of somewhat cryptic remarks testifies to Lacan’s awareness of the need to redefine feminine sexuality itself, and he contends that ‘object a’ plays an important role in his account of sexual difference. Feminine subject’s relation to the real is what Lacan calls feminine sexuality. Lacan formulates the ‘beyond’ of desire in terms of the subject’s relation to ‘object a,’ the real gaze. An enigmatic experience of the governess leads the readers to the beyond of desire. In Seminar XX, Lacan suggests that the feminine subject is alienated in the symbolic in such a way as to have a relation to ‘object a.’
As mentioned in
The Turn of the Screw, the position as governess was isolated and lonely, and the children’s uncle stipulated that the governess must deal with all problems by herself and never seek to correspond with him. Eventually she is alienated in Bly in such a way as to have a relation to ‘object a.’ The following description shows that Mrs. Grose becomes increasingly intrigued by the governess’s account in the same way a group of country house guests are seated around a fire listening to ghost stories. It also mirrors our own confrontation with this elusive story or the uncanny effect.
The ghost story assumes that ghosts do not exist. When they appear to exist, the uncanny effect is created. My study is not concerned with the verification of ghosts. What is important is the constructive, semiotic role of repetition of the uncanny effect. An uncanny experience like the governess’s encounter with the ghosts testifies to a knowledge that escapes the knowledge of the speaking being. It seems that
The Turn of the Screwis endorsing the premises of the real. In other words, the particular way the governess dreams her world is evocative of an excessive being, anatomical complement. Just as Freud’s confrontation with the enigma of traumatic war neuroses led him to the ‘beyond’ of desire, so too does the governess’s encounter with the ghosts lead the readers to the ‘beyond’ desire. Reading this way, her experience or her real sighting at something uncanny is what is ‘absolutely particular’ (Žižek, Looking Awry156) about her, or a ‘semblance of being’ (Lacan, Seminar XI87). The following description indicates the way in which ‘object a’ is revealed as a gaze and appears as ‘something within being’ or a ‘semblance of being,’ as in the phrase “a forward stride in our intercourse” ( TS44).
The following description of ‘object
a’ also suggests a strange, immortal, or indestructible life.
a’ is a remainder of being produced via sex, a ‘scrap of the real’ that ex-sists as a residue of a strange form of life (Suzanne Barnard and Bruce Fink 174). Such an object is different from the objects that appear in the field of phenomena. Lacan even states that such an uncanny experience by the subject can only be grasped through writing. In other words, the subject is the storyteller who emerges through telling the story which is related to ‘sheer uproar,’ ‘violent struggle,’ who exists only within his own storytelling (Žižek, The Parallax View224). The governess as a creator of a text writes according to her own characteristic patterns of desire and encounters with the ghosts. As mentioned, my focus is on investigating another relation to a ‘semblance of being’ like the uncanny experience that cannot be known through the knowledge of the speaking being. This relation to being(para-being) (Lacan, Seminar XX44) permits us access to Lacan’ theory of the Real. In Lacan’s reading, this being(a semblance of being) stands in complete opposition to the classic being of the philosophical tradition, as it was elaborated on by Aristotle and Aquinas. Lacan struggles with the idea of ‘Object a,’ that is, an enigmatic experience that the governess as well as readers are attracted by the gaze of the ghosts, denouncing reasoning in Aristotle and Aquinas’s work.
Just as the governess as well as readers are attracted by the gaze of the ghosts, that gaze functions as the letter of Edgar Allan Poe’s
The Purloined Letterthat circulates among the subjects. Also, just as, on experiencing(seeing) something uncanny, the mystics ejaculate, the governess ejaculates suddenly upon seeing the ghost Miss Jessel. The governess who is accompanied by feelings, cries out to her “You terrible miserable woman!” ( TS88). From then on, the governess has a strong feeling that she must stay on at Bly. These mystical ejaculations are neither idle chatter nor empty verbiage. They provide mythical entities, uncanny entities. The essential testimony of the mystics consists in saying that they experience it, but know nothing about it (Lacan, Seminar XX76). This mystical experience is what Lacan designates as feminine jouissance or supplementary jouissance, and this jouissance puts us on the path of ‘not-whole’ or ‘ex-sistence,’ just as the governess articulates the real desire in vocal and visual form such as her cry to the ghost and her gaze. Therefore, one can also situate oneself on the side of the ‘notwhole’ within the phallocentric law. The not-whole within the phallocentric law is related to the desire to find and articulate its own law, not depending on the interdiction of the Law, as embodied in Milly Theale of Henry James’s The Wings of the Dove. For example, in The Wings of the Dove, Densher falls in love with her gesture of dying for him, with how Milly Theale turned her inevitable death from illness into a sacrificial gesture. Also, this feminine jouissance like a sacrificial gesture doesn’t happen to all. In particular, woman has different ways of approaching the phallocentric law. In The Turn of the Screw, the governess is attracted by something uncanny that Lacan designates as the cause of desire, ‘object a.’ The governess’s real gaze, the cause of desire of the governess, that shakes the governess up is a horrible gap, ambiguity in narrative.
At this point it becomes necessary to understand the concept of the Real gaze with Freud’s theory. Freud’s theory of instincts or drives suggests its relation with Lacan’s gaze theory. Demonstrating an irremediable gap in the human subject in his 1915 paper, “Instincts and their Vicissitudes,” Freud acknowledges that “the theory of instincts (or drives) is to say our mythology. Instincts are mythical entities, magnificent in their indefiniteness” (
SE, 14: 149).
This study brings to light striking similarities between Henry James’s work and the psychoanalytical project of Jacques Lacan. In other words,
The Turn of the Screwdisplays a surprising parallel with the strategies of the Real gaze such as those employed by Lacan. The governess pours her energy into a commitment to encounter with the ghost in a repetitive way. A real sighting at the ghost is like a virus, ‘parasitic entity’ (Dennett 173) which colonizes the mind of the governess, and the governess is a passive medium infected with a real sighting at the ghost. The ghost that the governess encounters with is the object (‘object a’) that causes strong emotional responses, such as wonder, fear, and the like in her. Lacan takes the additional step of pointing to ‘something within being,’ that is, ‘object a’ as a surge of energy to make human being lose balance. Being human must be originally and primordially unbalanced in order for the Real gaze as an ontological excess to become operative. If, by contrast, being is inherently complete and internally consistent, then no space is held open for the emergence of something capable of breaking with human being of rational logos. As Lacan indicates in his later seminars, the freedom of subjectivity is possible only if being is internally inconsistent and out of joint with itself. The human freedom like breaking with stifling ontological closure is made possible by the lack of an integrated organic foundation as the grounding basis of subject’s being. Moving forward with the development of Lacanian propositions requires going back to a thinker: the German idealist philosopher F.W.J. von Schelling. Schelling, in his Claradialogue, speaks of the horror of nature, claiming that within nature there was something nameless and frightful(Schelling 21). This Schellingian theme is vitally important for a theory of subjectivity informed by psychoanalysis in so far as it implicitly advances a thesis crucial for such a theory: the underlying ontogenetic base of the subject consists of the materiality of the Real gaze. As embodied in the governess, the real gaze represents the minimum of freedom detached from ‘the adaptation to environs,’ that is, the utilitarian survivalist attitude.
In Lacan, the ontological status of the Real gaze refers to the specificity of inexhaustible sensibility, loss, death, negativity, or the split or gap between the symbolic order and the real. Exploring the ontological status of the real gaze is linked with probing the real, traumatic nature of the self. It is because the self exposes itself not in accordance with predeter-mined norms, but existentially, that is, in terms of trauma or what remains veiled in law. The classic symptoms of trauma range from feelings of restlessness and agitation at one end of the emotional scale to feelings of numbness and bleakness at the other (Erikson 184). According to Freud, the crucial factor that determines the repetition of trauma is the presence of unsymbolized and unintegrated experiences (quoted in van der Kolk and Ducey 271). Lacan sees such a traumatic real as an existential phenomenon. In terms of its clinical dimension, psychoanalysis tends to associate the traumatic real with psychopathological difficulties. However, in terms of the broader implications of Freudian-Lacanian metapsychology for philosophical theories of human freedom, the traumatic real is a double-edged sword, since it also serves as a fundamental condition for human freedom. In
The Turn of the Screw, the governess is repeatedly drawn back to the scrutiny of her own impulses and motives, presuppositions, and conclusions. This self-reflexive existence gives prominence to the traumatic subjectivity. For Lacan, the Real gaze simultaneously involves masochistic self-destructiveness as well as the negative void of absence evading incarnation and defying representation; it both overflows and withdraws from the register of the Symbolic, being a surplus and a deficit all at once.
The climax of the story coincides with the governess’s fatal ‘reading’ of Miles, that is, her inexhaustible sensibility to observe the ghosts, to analyze the ghosts and to conclude. There is no question that
The Turn of the Screwends in a moment of loss and desolation. The horror of humanity doomed to death(loss) and desolation has disintegrated the governess’s mind. Her desire for possession is fulfilled in Miles’s death: “his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped” ( TS120). When violence explodes at the end like the death of Miles, this explosion, although unaccounted for at the level of the narrative line, is nonetheless experienced as the consequence of an ‘inexhaustible sensibility’ (Edel 706) of traumatic gaze. In conclusion, according to Lacanian psychoanalysis, irresistable ‘real gaze/voice’ related to something traumatic within the subject causes exceptional appearances or voices such as violent struggle and sheer uproar to manifest. The Turn of the Screwlocates the governess’s fretful soul symbolic of split subjectivity and shattered integrity in the ‘real gaze’ which is overwhelming consciousness. In this regard, the subject of consciousness emerges through the disturbance of the organism’s homeostasis (Žižek, The Parallax View223), and the ‘excess of being’ as the real gaze cannot be accounted for in conceptual terms. Lacan’s ‘the Real gaze’ involves the impossibility of representing the desiring subject, and it, as a loophole, is related to revealing the contradiction within the subject as well.