Traumatic Repetition and Writing as Awakening in Iris Murdoch’s
The Black Prince
- Author: Kim Il-Yeong, Ryu In Sang
- Publish: The Journal of English Language and Literature Volume 57, Issue3, p495~513, June 2011
The Black Prince, is not, as most critics have suggested, an autobiographical novel. It is about the inner life or rather trauma of Bradley Pearson, an artist who repeatedly dreams about a shabby paper shop which used to be run by his “unsuccessful” parents. In this respect, Freudian concept of trauma is helpful since it can explain Bradley’s present repetition of his past traumatic experience, while allowing us to understand the nature of his trauma which reveals itself not only through his repeated nightmares but also through the women who are represented as diverse versions of his mother, the origin of Bradley’s trauma. Caruth’s concept of traumatic awakening and traumatic survival is also instrumental in understanding the nature of the traumatic experience which Bradley undergoes in this novel. Induced by Loxias’s address, Bradley makes a confession of “the sins,” which makes possible his traumatic survival as well as traumatic awakening, which is transmitted not only to Loxias but also to us the readers. In this sense, the significance of Bradley’s awakening is not confined to his past only, but becomes a matter of a social dimension. The meaning of Bradley’s writing lies in this fact.
Black Prince , Trauma , Traumatic Survival , Screen Memory , Repetition Awakening , Transmission , Caruth , Freud , Lacan , Murdoch
The Black Prince,” Peter Conradi remarks, “concerns the jealous, implicitly murderous hostility that underlies the friendship between a facile artist-protègè and his serious-minded discoverer-patron. Both parties, Arnold Baffin and Bradley Pearson, are aspects of Iris herself” (519). Such a view which regards the novel as a manifestation of the author’s autobiographical aspects forms the critical mainstream of The Black Prince. Indeed, many critics have seen Bradley Pearson the protagonist of the novel as a mouthpiece for Murdoch herself; and examining how Murdoch’s moral philosophy is embodied in Bradley’s writing, critics have concentrated their critical efforts on bridging the gap between Murdoch’s and Bradley’s ideas. For example, Dipple who interprets “the unflayed . . . BP[Bradley Pearson] as the primary narrating voice and the flayed BP . . . as the secondary voice” (138) connects Bradley’s metamorphosis with that of “the prisoners in the cave”1; Nussbaum also approaches Bradley’s view of love in terms of “a source of insight and a source of egoistic fog and delusion” (691), taking the cue from Murdoch’s concept of Eros. In the same vein, Heusel demonstrates the deconstructive effect of postscripts, basing her argument upon the assumption that Murdoch’s voice is at the center of Bradley’s multivoiced personae.2
Such viewpoints, however, prevent us from examining Bradley’s writing itself, because their main concern is only with the revelation of Murdoch’s philosophy. Furthermore, such viewpoints are incompatible with Murdoch’s attitude toward her literary works:
Murdoch’s statement that any particular character should not represent author’s voice implies that we try not to read Bradley’s writing in terms of Murdoch’s philosophical ideas. That is, when we read
The Black Prince, Murdoch maintains, we must investigate his narrative without relying on any outer frame or extrinsic idea, since the story is not about Murdoch, but about Bradley himself, who is at the center of this story as well as the center of the consciousness dominating the story. (Bradley’s narrative is wholly concerned with Bradley himself as well as his love, whose meaning and nature he tries to investigate and define through this writing. Besides, postscripts written by other major characters are solely concerned with Bradley and his statements).
This fact naturally leads us to pay close attention to Bradley’s consciousness as well as his psychological aspects3 themselves, rather than to Murdoch’s philosophy. It is Nicol who first notices the necessity of psychoanalytic reading of the book: “[W]hile Murdoch’s literary theory recalls a range of theories of authorship from romanticism (e.g. Schiller, Coleridge, Keats) to modernism (Eliot and Joyce) and poststructuralism (Barthes, perhaps even Bakhtin), the body of thought it most resembles is psychoanalysis” (150). Maintaining that “[m]asochism shares its ability to simultaneously generate and confound interpretative endeavour with the work of art, which by definition encourages a multiplicity of interpretations” (158), Nicol tries to trace Bradley’s masochistic aspects. Nicol’s analysis, however, is confined to connecting “the implications of masquerade in masochism” with Bradley’s authorship in the first person.
Though masochism whose image is represented by the “flayed” artist in this novel may be considered as an important aspect of Bradley’s personality, it is trauma that exerts the greatest influences on the life of Bradley who writes his memoirs after being imprisoned because of the supposed murder of Arnold, his rival writer. Thus, his memoirs seem to be a means of his declaring himself to be innocent. His narrative whose verity Bradley frequently emphasizes, however, ironically draws our attention to his unconsciousness glimpsed under his writing. That is, every time Bradley emphasizes the importance of truth, which he maintains is essential to good art, his narrative indicates another hidden truth, which is closely related with his trauma.
Throughout the novel Bradley is so much haunted and obsessed by “a nightmare” (141), a recurring dream4 whose meaning he does not understand, that his writing is pregnant with its repeated presences. Therefore, when we consider the fact that the trauma, “the wound of the mind,” cannot “be fully known and is therefore not available to consciousness until it imposes itself again, repeatedly, in the nightmares and repetitive actions of the survivor” (Caruth,
Unclaimed4), Bradley’s writing seems to be dominated by his trauma which paradoxically can serve as a clue to his dilemma. The aim of this paper is closely related to this fact, since it will handle some questions like where Bradley’s trauma originates from, how it functions in his life and writing, and how he can/may survive it.
These particular questions are instrumental in understanding Bradley’s trauma as well as his writing, since they are concerned with Bradley’s future as well as his past5. Like his writing, Bradley’s trauma is not just concerned with his past, or rather, a repetition of catastrophic past, but also with the future, that is, an endless confrontation with the future, which may enable Bradley to overcome his traumatic past. In this respect, Freudian “traumatic neurosis”6 and Caruth’s idea of trauma are helpful, because while Freud’s theory of trauma explains the origin of Bradley’s trauma and its repetitive nature, Caruth finds the future aspect inherent in trauma by reading, as Marder points out, trauma as “a call to survival through new forms of contact with others” (Marder 2). That is, while Freudian concept of trauma provides a foundation for the repetitiveness of Bradley’s past traumatic experience, Caruth’s idea of trauma which is closely related with her concept of awakening, a stepping stone to traumatic survival, provides a key to the future aspect of Bradley’s trauma. Hence the need to approach the work in terms of these two ideas, since Bradley’s writing is the embodiment of his trauma as well as his effort to overcome it.
1Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good, 98. In this paper, all citations of Murdoch’s The Black Prince will be parenthetically referenced with page numbers only. For her other works, all quotations will be also parenthetically referenced, but identified by the following abbreviation: EM for Existentialists and Mystics. 2See Heusel 127-39. 3It is not by chance that one of characters, Francis Marloe, in his postscript analyzes Bradley’s story in the light of Freudian ideas. Although Bradley treats him as “a subsidiary, a sidesman” or “an excellent fifth wheel” (6), Francis should not be considered as such. He not only opens Bradley’s story as “the mascot of the tale” (6), but also, and more importantly, reveals Bradley’s repressed memories. 4When we consider the fact that the term trauma is derived from the German word ‘traum’ which means dream, Bradley’s dream or nightmare can be regarded as the result or embodiment of his trauma. 5These questions are concerned with Bradley’s future, that is, how he can survive the trauma, as well as with his past and present, that is, where his trauma originates from and how his trauma functions in his life. Besides, Bradley’s writing, though it seems to be concerned only with his past, is an effort to find his true self, which is essential to his future life. 6In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud explains “traumatic neurosis” as follows: “a condition has long been known and described which occurs after severe mechanical concussions, railway disasters and other accidents involving a risk to life; it has been given the name of ‘traumatic neurosis.’ The terrible war which has just ended gave rise to a great number of illness of this kind . . . The symptomatic picture presented by traumatic neurosis approaches that of hysteria in the wealth of its similar motor symptoms, but surpasses it as a rule in its strongly marked signs of subjective ailment . . . No complete explanation has yet been reached either of war neuroses or of the traumatic neuroses of peace” (10).
Bradley’s writing is the place where his present self attempts to narrate his own past in retrospect, that is, where his two selves meet and communicate with each other, while allowing “the narrating consciousness to pass like a light along its series of present moments, aware of the past, unaware of what is to come” (3). Thus, we sometimes hear Bradley’s two different yet interconnected voices which reveal his innermost feelings. His explanation of the psychological reason for his reflective writing is meaningful in this respect: “The psyche, desperate for its survival, discovers deep things” (381). This statement indicates that Bradley’s writing is for his psychic survival, emphasizing the necessity of finding unknown or repressed psychological aspects which are hidden deep in Bradley’s heart. Thus, Bradley’s writing may be regarded as the attempt to overcome his trauma which composes the core of his writing.
To locate one’s trauma, one needs to trace his life back to his past, because trauma which affects the present is essentially a psychical wound that stems from the past. Here lies the reason why Bradley’s narrative begins with his memory of his childhood, especially that of a paper shop which his parents once ran in Bradley’s childhood. Bradley describes it as follows:
In this fragmentary recollection, Bradley confesses that he repeatedly dreams about “the paper shop”, regarding it as “the mythical domain”, even though he does not want to talk about it. In this sense, the paper shop is closely related to his trauma which frequently reveals itself in the form of dream in his unconscious world. However, it is not easy to understand what Bradley’s trauma is, because he does not mention any particular accident which caused him psychic wounds.
At this point, Freud’s explanation of trauma is helpful. He describes trauma as “experiences which occurred in very early childhood and were not understood at the time but which were subsequently understood and intercepted” (Freud, “Remembering” 149). Bradey himself did not know specifically what his trauma was, though he is now dimly aware of its terrible influence upon his life. In connection with this, we also need to examine the nature of “screen memories”. Screen memories, according to Richard, are “less childhood memories than memories about childhood, characterized typically by their singular clarity and the apparent insignificance of their content,”7 because screen memories are unconsciously used to repress recollection of an associated but distressing event. In other words, screen memories “screen” cause or origin of one’s trauma, while functioning as a substitute for the trauma. In Bradley’s case, the screen memory is the paper shop of which Bradley so frequently dreams. Hence our need to examine what the paper shop represents before we examine what traumatic experiences the paper shop screens.
Its clue can be found in the images associated with the paper shop. As shown in the above quotations, the paper shop with its “smells” and “particular dirt” is associated with shabbiness or something “shabby” whose etymological meaning, according to
OED, derives from the word “scabby.” The word “scabby” is closely related with “the scab or a similar skin-disease; covered with scab or scabs.” That is, the paper shop evokes the image or sense of “vile” and “stingy” which disgusts Bradley. Bradley’s attitude to his mother which is shared by his father should be regarded in this context.
Like his father “with whom I[Bradley] increasingly identified myself, Bradley “disapproved of her ‘worldliness,’” associating his mother with shabbiness which causes Bradley a sense of pain and “disgust.” In this respect, the paper shop is a screen memory of his “shabby” mother, which is penetrated by Francis who regards the paper shop as the symbol of “that stale interior, symbolic of the rejected womb of a socially inferior mother” (390). This fact can explain why Bradley is obsessed with the paper shop and why he cannot but dream of the shop once a week, because his mother whose shabbiness is screened by the paper shop is Bradley’s trauma.
The connection between Bradley’s trauma and his mother is more reinforced by a kind of his foreword to this work full of enigmatic statements:
A close scrutiny of this statement reveals Bradley’s evasive attitude toward women. Bradley insists not on mentioning any particular woman with whom he had any connection except his former wife, regarding all women merely as “irrelevant and unimportant.” At first sight, such an attitude to women seems to be caused by the failure of his former marriage which, Christian his former wife maintains, was shocking to Bradley. Bradley’s confession that he did not have any real interest in women before meeting Christian, however, suggests that Bradley’s negative attitude to women is not due to the failure of his marriage with Christian. As his own description of himself as “an ageing Don Juan” indicates, it may be more due to his distorted attitude to women.
His identification of himself with Don Juan, however, does not simply indicate his temperament as a debaucher. Rather, it shows that Bradley who wants to assert himself as a womanizer can maintain only a superficial relationship with women. His lack of real concern with women is manifested in his relationship with Christian his former wife, because he did not know Christian is a Jew, until Arnold lets him know that. His statement that “[t]his book is in fact the story of an ‘intimate friendship’” (8) is meaningful in this respect. It implies that Bradley has never achieved any “intimate” relationship with any woman before he meets Julian. His confession, however, throws doubt on whether he finally achieves real and intimate relation with a woman, since Julian only as the persona of Hamlet can give Bradley an opportunity to fulfill his love. Irregardless of what he says concerning Julian, Bradley may be afraid of
somethingin relation to or concerning women, which obstructs his normal relationship with women.
At this point Laqueur’s remark that “the psychological pressures created an atmosphere in which wishful thinking seemed to offer the only antidote to utter despair” (104) is helpful for us to understand Bradley’s mental state concerning women. For Bradley, “something” of which Bradley is afraid in relation with women works as “psychological pressure” which leads him to the world of oblivion as his “wishful thinking,” while blocking his normal relationship with women. Therefore “something” may be seen as Bradley’s trauma, that is, his “shabby mother,” while his entering into “the world of fantasy” can be regarded as “the antidote to utter despair.” Bradley’s insomnia, in this respect, assumes some importance because it is the proof of his traumatic phobia of his mother which torments Bradley repeatedly and endlessly by penetrating into his unconscious in the form of nightmare.
Along with its veiledness another feature of trauma is its repetitive- ness. Lacan points out this fact concisely: “the trauma reappears, in effect, frequently unveiled. How can the dream, the bearer of the subject’s desire, produce that which makes the trauma emerge repeatedly— if not its very face, at least
the screenthat shows us that it is still behind?” (55; Italic is mine) Here taking notice of the relationship between a screen memory and the repetitive nature of trauma, Lacan maintains that repetitive appearance of trauma is possible by the screen memory, “face” of the trauma, whose veiledness allows the trauma to recur without its being noticed consciously, at least.
Trauma, however, does not reveal itself through dreams only. It makes its appearances intermittently even in everyday life. Lacan’s another statement to this effect is suggestive: “The real may be represented by the accident, the noise, the small element of reality, which is evidence that we are not dreaming” (60). Lacan locates “the real” in trauma, while asserting trauma resides in “the real” at the same time8. Therefore the above statement which emphasizes the connection between “the real” and “the accident” leads to the fact that trauma does not simply reside in the dream, and that we may repeatedly find the traces of trauma in the “accident” we meet in daily life. Hence a close scrutiny of the “accident” which obsesses Bradley is important in order for us to figure out his trauma.
It is not, however, in any particular event or accident, but in women that we can find a clue to his trauma, because every woman Bradley encounters in this novel plays an important, sometimes even decisive role in his life: Rachel not only makes Bradley delay his intended departure for Patara by her seemingly “fatal” fight with Arnold, but also plays a decisive role in having Bradley accused of murder; Priscilla, Bradley’s sister, also makes Bradley delay his departure for Patara, ultimately leading him to be stigmatized as an immoral person who is indifferent to his sister’s death because of his “carnal desire” for Julian; Christian, Bradley’s ex-wife, also throws Bradley’s life into confusion by ultimately leading Rachel to kill Arnold of whose murder Bradley was convicted.
What is notable, the women9 who dominate and influence Bradley’s life share some common characteristics with Bradley’s mother, evoking shabbiness. That is, Bradley’s trauma reveals itself repeatedly when he encounters women. It is through Priscilla that Bradley’s psychical wound is first suggested.
In his portrayal of Priscilla, Bradley emphasizes her resemblance to his mother. Priscilla, though uneducated and uncultivated, was not only a “beauty” like her mother, but also pursued commercially “advantageous buy” through the influence of her mother who regretted not having made a “better bargain” in her life by marrying “beneath” herself. Besides, Priscilla actively “followed somewhat the same pattern” set by her mother, thus revealing her closeness to her vulgar mother. In other words, Priscilla is another version of her mother, which fact is supported by Bradley’s description of Priscilla’s “ambition”:
After describing Priscilla’s desire for “‘better’ social circles” and her “campaign to better Priscilla’s lot,” Bradley abruptly mentions “a smell of shop” which apparently does not have any connection with Priscilla’s social ambition. But, since a smell of shop is a correlative of shabbiness which has the connotation of worldliness and vulgarity with Bradley, the term “a smell of shop” is not out of place, though Bradley is not aware/conscious of its implicit connection.
Freud remarks about the unconscious and repetitive nature of trauma: “he
repeatsit, without, of course, knowing that he is repeating it (150). Bradley is also obsessed with the image of shabbiness and mother (or rather mother figure) without connecting these two consciously. The fact that Bradley’s trauma about shabbiness repeats itself without Bradley’s being conscious of it is further reinforced by Bradley’s confession that “after her[Bradley’s mother] death, I[Bradley] transferred many of these feeling to Priscilla” (74). Now, the object of Bradley’s trauma passes from his mother to Priscilla, or rather, his trauma repeats itself in the shape of Priscilla, which implies that object of his trauma can be transferred to anyone who can represent his mother.
Surprisingly, Bradley’s trauma repeats itself also in the form of Christian, Bradley’s ex-wife. At a glance, Christian never seems to match or associate with the image of shabbiness. Unlike Priscilla, who is described as “a hysterical ageing woman” (94), Christian is neither emotional nor pathetic. Rather, she, as Bradley admits, is “competent and distinguished, like the manager of an international cosmetic firm” (85), a self-possessed and a most independent and successful businesswoman, as shown in her achievement of “the fabulous success of the salon in a few years” (387) after Bradley’s trial. Furthermore, she is attractive enough to make Arnold fall in love with herself, almost leading Arnold to abandon his wife Rachel for her. Christian, in this respect, seems to be the last person to evoke the image of a smell and dirt of the paper shop.
Christian, however, is also closely associated with the image of shabbiness, Bradley’s trauma. Bradley does not find in her any emotional “effusions” as in Priscilla, who, after leaving her husband Roger, spends most of her time endlessly moaning “about the lost child, about her age, about her personal appearance, about her husband’s unkindness, about her ruined useless life” (92). With Bradley, however, Christian presents another aspect of shabbiness as the incarnation of worldliness. When he comes to hear of Christian from Francis who unexpectedly visits him at his house, Bradley revives his painful memories about Christian:
The above passage is not simply about the failure of Bradley’s marriage. It is indicative of reappearance of Bradley’s trauma which is suggested by Bradley’s statement that “I saw her as a death-bringer.” In “Violence and Time: Traumatic Survivals,” Cathy Caruth remarks that “the trauma consists not only in having confronted death, but in having survived, precisely, without knowing it” (25). Although Caruth puts emphasis on “the incomprehensibility of survival”, her statement basically implies the close connection between trauma and death. Thus, Bradley’s description of Christian as a “death-bringer” reveals Christian is also the embodiment of his traumatic repetition.
Bradley, in the above quotation, uses several terms which lead us to think about Bradley’s trauma. Such words as “a natural flirt” and “a great maker of scenes,” for example, remind us of Bradley’s mother and Priscilla. His disgust against “disorder” associated with Christian can be considered in this context, because it is a psychological resistance or rather a defence mechanism against the shabbiness of a paper shop. Along with this, the fact that Christian remarried “a rich unlettered American called Evandale” shortly after her divorce is a manifest proof of her worldliness since to “puritanical” Bradley, her marriage of convenience cannot but be morally “shabby.” Furthermore, Bradley’s confession that “she[Christian] was ubiquitous” implies that she is also Bradley’s trauma, which cannot be completely banished from his psyche, like “her[Christian] consciousness” which is “rapacious” and damaging. The connection between Christian and Bradley’s trauma, however, is decisively formed by the image of a paper shop. Bradley after describing his mother and Christian as “the predatory women” and “the destroyers,” imagines that he is “in a shop lying under the counter with a woman” (101), while Christian notes in her postscript that “he [Bradley] is always going on about ‘the shop’” (387). Bradley’s seemingly casual remark about the paper shop in connection with Christian is significant in this sense.
Bradley’s trauma repeats itself also in the form of Rachel, who declares that “His[Bradley’s] relation to myself[Rachel] and my husband was virtually that of a child to its parents” (397). As suggested by Rachel’s statement, Bradley unconsciously identifies Rachel with his mother, seeing her as a “maker of scenes” like his mother. So when he receives a letter from Rachel which demands him to “reciprocate” her love (120), Bradley feels “upset, touched, annoyed, pleased and thoroughly frightened by this emotional and jumbled missive” (121) which evokes the traumatic sense of “fear” (132).
This fact is supported by Bradley’s own confession: “there was a memory- odour like a smell of decay. I[Bradley] felt distressed, physically repelled, frightened. Her[Rachel’s] wide round pale face was terribly familiar, but with the ambiguous veiled familiarity of a dream. It was as if my mother had visited me in her cerements” (346). The term “smell of decay” in this statement evokes the image of shabbiness, especially that of “smell of a paper shop”, while the term “veiled familiarity of a dream” reminds us of “screen memory”, an indirect manifestation of a trauma. In short, through his confession of his repulsion toward Rachel, Bradley reveals that he identifies and associates Rachel with his mother, thus unwittingly making possible the repetition of his traumatic past.
The first scene where Bradley meets Rachel after he received a phone call from Arnold also suggests the fact that Rachel is closely related to Bradley’s trauma:
When Bradley enters Rachel’s room, what confronts him at first is the dusty, messy, and chaotic disorder. What demands our attention in this scene is, however, not the disorder itself, but his feeling toward such disorder, which leads him to think “so promptly and prophetically” of death, which is associated with trauma. Besides, his remark that “[t]he whole room breathed the flat horror of genuine mortality, dull and spiritless and final” implies that in Rachel’s room Bradley experiences “the return” of his traumatic fright, though he was not aware of it.
As we have seen above, the image of shabbiness which makes its repeated appearances is indeed destructive, or rather traumatic to Bradley, while his morbid fear of a shabby paper shop leads us to the realization that Bradley has suffered from the haunting memory, which is a screen for his trauma. Bradley’s relationship with three women through whom his trauma makes its repeated appearances also shows the domination and influence of his trauma as well as his psychical wound. Seen this way, trauma seems to be a trap where Bradley is caught and where Bradley is obliged to meet his psychical death. Bradley’s writing, however, paradoxically provides a chance of traumatic survival. That is, Bradley’s writing is characterized by “a kind of double telling, the oscillation between a
crisis of deathand the correlative crisis of life” (Caruth, Unclaimed7), because it is the story about his psychical death as well as about his survival from his trauma.
8See Lacan 53-56 and 60. 9Above anyone else, Julian plays the most important role in Bradley’s life by serving as an artistic medium, or a muse who, according to Bradley, leads Bradley to be reborn as a true artist. But Julian’s positive influence on Bradley’s life is possible because she is associated with male figure, Hamlet. This is the reason why I omit Julian in the list of women who are associated with Bradley’s trauma.
Bradley’s writing, as an act of confession, is also an embodiment of his traumatic awakening. This, however, does neither mean that his writing is the proof and effect of his conquest of trauma, nor that his writing is the fruit of his enlightenment, but, rather that his writing is the very embodiment of “the experience of
waking into consciousness” (Caruth, “Violence” 25). Caruth’s statement in connection with Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principleis suggestive in this respect.
Grounding her argument on Freudian explanation of traumatic neuroses, Caruth points out that dream can function as a means which makes possible traumatic repetition as well as another “waking up.” That is, Caruth does not emphasize the importance of “the experience within the dream”, but “
the experience of waking from it”, while asserting that “Freud does not simply attribute the traumatic fright to the dream itself, but to what happens upon waking up.” (Caruth, “Violence” 25)
What Caruth calls “awakening” is not simply an act of “assimilating” one’s trauma. Rather than the stage in which traumatic fright is fully understood and thereby cured, “awakening,” Caruth argues, is an act of reliving trauma. For this reason, “awakening” may be said to be just another version of trauma. At this point, Caruth, however, is more concerned with the future aspect of repetitive trauma: “Such an awakening, if it is in some sense still a repetition of the trauma . . ., is not, however, a simple repetition of the same failure and loss . . . but a new act that repeats precisely a departure and a difference . . . (
This aspect of the “awakening” which represents itself as the repetitive trauma should be noticed in Bradley’s writing, since his writing, vehicle of his confession, is not the “repetition of the same failure.” On the contrary, Bradley’s writing is an embodiment of his another repetition of “a departure and a difference” made possible through Loxias10 whose sympathetic understanding of Bradley triggers Bradley’s traumatic awakening. In his foreword, Loxias suggests such a role:
Loxias represents himself as an “editor” of Bradley’s story, an “impresario” of Bradley’s dramatic life, and a clown who opens and ends Bradley’s dramatic life. These diverse roles played by Loxias, however, are instrumental in giving birth to Bradley’s writing which depicts Bradley’s dramatic life. In this respect, Loxias who knows the reason “why this tale had to be written” is a kind of a midwife of Bradley’s writing as well as a “penetrating critic” (72) who “reserved for myself[Loxias] the last word of all, the final assessment.”
As a midwife of Bradley’s writing, Loxias who shares Bradley’s pain in the same prison is not simply a narrator of Bradley’s story, but a sympathetic listener who leads Bradley to “discover deep things” (381). In other words, Loxias awakens Bradley from his traumatic fright by leading Bradley to look outside of his “imprisoned self” or “caved self,”11 thus making possible his writing, the effect of his awakening from trauma.
It is through a dialogue with Loxias in a prison that allows Bradley to experience traumatic awakening, or rather allows him to be even dimly aware of his trauma, which has confined him to his self-created prison. Bradley makes this fact clear by declaring that Loxias’s unseen address has a huge impact on his survival from the traumatic repetition:
In this statement, Bradley, first of all, owns Loxias as the midwife of his writing by defining “my[Bradley’s] whole oeuvre” as “a communication addressed to you[Loxias]. And then he confesses that “this direct speaking” to Loxias is “a relief” to ease “some pressure” upon his heart which is caused by “failure and loss,” thus owning his writing as an effort to speak up “some pressure,” that is, his traumatic suffering. In this sense, Loxias who induces Bradley to write about himself simultaneously allows Bradley survival from his trauma because Bradley, through his dialogue with Loxias, is able to uncover “the sins he cannot remember” and “the sins he cannot even recognize” which represent themselves in the undetermined shape of trauma.
Whatever “the sins” may refer to, Bradley’s mother has her own place behind such sins as (a source of) trauma, because Bradley’s despise for his mother, a correlative of shabbiness, causes Bradley’s sense of guilt, which is closely related with his sin, that is, his trauma. In this sense, Bradley’s confession of his “sins”, though “tortuously told” (1) in his writing, is an effort to escape from the traumatic nightmares as well as his apology to his mother, who evokes his sense of guilt. In short, Bradley, after meeting with Loxias, becomes ready to confront his painful past memories related to his trauma, while his traumatic repetition changes into that of “a departure and a difference.”
The immediate effect of his traumatic awakening is reflected in Bradley’s confession of his sense of guilt after being sentenced to life imprisonment: “In a more extended sense . . . I was condemned for being a certain awful kind of person” (379). Repenting of his faults, Bradley makes an apology to his murdered friend Arnold as well as to his sister Priscilla: “I had failed as a friend and I had failed as a brother” (379). A little later, his apology is repeated: “I had failed Rachel and abandoned her” (380). His awakening, however, undergoes “a transmission” (Caruth,
Unclaimed106), that is, his awakening is transmitted to others by his writing, as suggested by Caruth who maintains that “[T]he words are passed on as an act that does not precisely awaken the self, but, rather, passes the awakening on to others” ( Unclaimed107).
It is to Loxias convicted of having murdered his fellow musician that the transmission of the awakening was made. As the editor of Bradley’s writing as well as his fellow prisoner, Loxias deeply sympathizes with Bradley and his fate: “I[Loxias] felt as if he[Bradley] had suffered the lack of me throughout his life; and at the end I suffered with him and suffered, at last, his mortality. I needed him too. He added a dimension to my being” (407). Emphasizing that he and Bradley are indispensible to each other, Loxias even identifies himself with Bradley who he believes is essential to fulfillment of his being. The most important fact which should be noticed in his confession, however, is that Loxias “suffered, at last, his[Bradley’s] mortality” which is closely related with trauma as we have seen before, since it implies that Loxias comes to share Bradley’s traumatic awakening. In other words, Loxias’s confession shows that Bradley’s traumatic awakening is transmitted to himself.
This is the reason why Loxias edits and publishes Bradley’s writing, which is an embodiment of Bradley’s trauma as well as the means of his traumatic awakening. Through the disclosure of Bradley’s traumatic suffering, Loxias makes an indirect confession of his own psychical wound, his trauma, which is essential to his traumatic awakening. In this sense, the significance of Bradley’s writing is not confined to Bradley, because his writing enables his traumatic awakening to be transmitted to others, while making itself a matter of a social dimension. The true value of Bradley’s writing lies in this transmission.
The fact that Bradley’s story is actually narrated by Loxias is suggestive in this respect. We may infer from it that
The Black Princeis not about the solution of one’s trauma, but about “transmission” of one’s own trauma, since it is we that ultimately have “the experience of waking into consciousness.” Like Loxias, we readers come to undergo another version of traumatic repetition, that is, “the oscillation between a crisis of deathand the correlative crisis of life,” because trauma is part of our life and our history. Consequently Bradley’s writing can affect our life which may be led to another repetition of “a departure and a difference” like that of Loxias’s.
Seen this way, trauma is not an endless and repetitive personal suffering merely, but a channel of collective mental (or unconscious) phenomena through which we interact with others. The significance of Caruthian trauma rests on this fact, since Caruth’s emphasis of “social contact” in the survival from trauma12 leads us to regard traumatic repetition not as the repetition of the same thing, but as ongoing process or phenomena. Because of this repetitive nature of trauma,
The Black Princeultimately becomes the record of Bradley’s traumatic suffering (as suggested by Freud) and his survival from the trauma, while serving as the open space where we are allowed to freely participate in the traumatic transmission and awakening. The Black Prince, in this respect, demands us to bear our share of social responsibility in the matter of trauma by witnessing it, because trauma is not private, but social phenomena which can also affect other members of society. Likewise, “deep things” in Bradley’s psyche which Bradley tries to explore invite us to have a moral responsibility for trauma, since they are fundamentally connected with Bradley’s (our) trauma and his (our) traumatic survival. From the very moment when Loxias publishes Bradley’s story, the embodiment of Bradley’s traumatic suffering and his subsequent survival from it, his private story becomes, in this sense, a collective history.
10Dipple regards Loxias as Bradley’s alter ego, maintaining that “a heavily disguised Apollo figure [the editor Loxias] claims to be the alter ego of the writer [Bradley] of the love story” (136). When we consider the fact that in Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, Cassandra addresses her god Apollo as Loxias and that Loxias’s view of art which is revealed in his postscript has, as Francis suggests, “a marked similarity of literary style” (393) with that of “flayed” Bradley, Loxias may be considered as Bradley’s alter ego. 11Plato describes the man who mistakes the shadow for reality as the caved man. 12Although Caruth’s concept of awakening is inseparable from the idea of trauma as a residue of “unassimilable” suffering, she admits that trauma cannot be washed away simply by the analyst’s “interpretation.”