in the Eighteenth-Century English Novel
The general aim of my research is to deconstruct the ideology of appearances in the eighteenth-century English novel. By 'appearances', I consider all the possible meanings of words such as 'appearance', 'appear', and 'apparition', including their derivatives, as they appear in the eighteenth-century novels: the way a character or situation looks, a process of coming into existence, a misleading impression, a performance, etc. Within what Jacques Derrida has called the 'historical ambiguity' of the word 'appearance', 'at once the appearing or apparition of the being-present and the masking of the being-present behind its appearance' (Derrida, 1972; p. 221), I am trying to define the ideology of appearances apparently held by most eighteenth-century writers.
I understand 'ideology' in general terms, as defined by Slavoj Zizek: 'qua generative matrix that regulates the relationship between visible and non-visible, between imaginable and non-imaginable, as well as the changes in this relationship' (Zizek, 1994, p. 1); in other words, as a 'code' (Foucault, 1966) or 'cultural programming' (Balkin, 1998), though not so much in the sense of order and organisation (Foucault), and taking distance from Balkin's simplistic understanding of concepts such as 'information, 'communication' and 'justice'. I understand ideology as a program analogous to the 'logical machine' Derrida identified about the problem of mimesis, that 'programs the prototypes of all the propositions inscribed in Plato's discourse as well as those of the whole tradition' (Derrida, 1972, n14, p. 288). The purpose of my research is not to unmask or criticise such an ideology, but to deconstruct it, by exposing the 'logic of destabilisation already on the move' in appearances 'themselves', 'what makes every identity itself and different from itself: a logic of spectrality' –to use some of the terms proposed by Nicholas Royle to define 'deconstruction' (Royle, 2000, p. 11).
The scope of my research is what is known as 'the eighteenth-century English novel': my research focuses on works of narrative fiction ('novels') published in English, in England, between 1700 and 1799. Emphasis is given to authors and texts currently considered representatives of such a history: Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, Roxana), Samuel Richardson (Pamela, Clarissa, Sir Charles Grandison), Henry Fielding (Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones, Amelia), Tobias Smollet (Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphry Clinker), Laurence Sterne (Tristram Shandy), Frances Burney (Evelina, Cecilia, Camilla), William Godwin (Caleb Williams), Ian Mackenzie (The Man of Feeling), Mary Hays (Memoirs of Emma Courtney), and Matthew Lewis (The Monk).
My starting point is that eighteenth-century English novels contain a typical preoccupation with appearances: the characters are generally engaged in 'keeping up' appearances (Moll Flanders, Roxana), worried about making the 'right' appearance (Evelina), wonder if they should trust appearances (Clarissa, Evelina, Lydia Melford), could be said to be victims of appearances (Tom Jones, Clarissa, Humphry Clinker), etc. The origin of such a preoccupation could be traced back to Plato, but –I argue– it gains intensity in the eighteenth century, widespread through the novel. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, I claim, something happened to the ideology of appearances predominant at the beginning of the eighteenth century. My research explores the role of the novel in that change, to understand –for example– to what degree the novel could have worked like a mirror and a virus, reflecting and spreading, distorting and transforming, contaminating a certain ideology already in place, regarding appearances.
Despite the philosophical component, my research does not aim to illustrate philosophy with literature, or to propose a completely new theory or 'thought' of appearances. The purpose is to try to think –in the strongest sense of the word, with the help of philosophy– what could have happened to the question of appearances, in the novel, in England, in the eighteenth century. Therefore, my research aims to make a contribution to the understanding of the philosophical and ideological problem of appearances in the history of the eighteenth-century English novel. It differentiates itself from previous attempts in its wider scope, its sustained preoccupation or engagement with questions of appearances, and in its deconstructive weaving of philosophy and literature.
Badiou's work has become practically impossible to ignore today, in any thinking of questions of appearances. My proposal of 'logics of appearance' is indebted to his work, beyond a simple borrowing of terms. A definition and critique of 'ideologies of appearance' follows Slavoj Zizek, also arguably one of the most popular intellectual figures today, who has repeatedly pointed out the importance of thinking appearances, to understand how ideology works. As for 'language and appearance', the third name is that of Jacques Derrida, though I do not reduce his work to a 'philosophy of language', as it has become customary among critics of deconstruction, as if language was all there is for Derrida. On the contrary, I will be using some of Derrida's ideas to contest some constrained conceptions of language, ideology, and appearances.
Even if my thoughts on questions of appearance will be clearly influenced by Derrida, Badiou, and Zizek, thinking as if between the gaps left open between their thoughts, it is not my purpose to try to reconcile their differences, despite that a certain 'patching', to use Badiou's word, can be achieved. Rather, my research will be an attempt at 'applied deconstruction', in the sense that –as Derrida pointed out– 'there is nothing but application. You can only apply deconstruction' (Brannigan, 1997, p. 218). It is in that sense that my research attempts to 'apply', for example, Derrida's work on 'the age of Rousseau' (see Derrida, 1967) to the contexts of appearances in the English novel. Also, though thoroughly influenced by the work of Derrida, Badiou, and Zizek, my research is not be restricted to their texts. It is not my purpose to prove –for example– some of Derrida's ideas, in relation to questions of appearances and the eighteenth-century novel, nor is it a question of staying within a 'deconstructive methodology' –a methodology that, according to Derrida, does not (nor can) exist (Derrida, 1985). Rather, exceeding any programmatic methodology that could seem to dictate my steps, I try to remain truthful to a certain spirit –necessarily plural, in differánce– of deconstruction, as my research attempts to situate itself within what Derrida called '[a] decisive return to the meditation on what one could term the simplest statements ("Being is," "Beings is not"), on words as apparently clear as "word," "appearance," "clarity" […]' (Derrida, 1982, p. 177).