CTT: Paranoia

In her blog post, stephaniecaputo23 looks at the relationship between paranoia and desire in Matthew Helmers’ piece on Beast in the Jungle. She quotes Helmers:

“Paranoia enjoined us to look at time and see a system that applies to desire, and to look at desire and see the same system that applies to sexuality and, through syllogism, to reduce all of these elements into a well-understood structural unity: the tessellated pattern of Western culture […]” (Helmers 114)

Her own interpretation of this quote is that James Marcher in James’ Beast in the Junglebegins to think of Western culture as the only correct form of knowledge, despite ‘his struggles to exist within [this] system’ (Helmers 115)”. We read various theorists’ arguments regarding Marcher’s homosexuality, which did not, at the time of this story’s publishing, fit into the traditional heteronormative values of Western culture. Stephanie seems to be relating Helmers’ idea of the relationship between paranoia and desire as relating directly to the possibility of Marcher’s homosexuality and his feelings about it. I think there are two ways in which paranoia could relate to Marcher’s desire: either he is homosexual and suppresses or hides it because he is paranoid about what traditional Western society may think; or, he does in fact have feelings for Bartram, but the paranoia he feels towards his supposed looming Beast gets in the way of any romantic action being taken, which was my own reading of the story.

In her post, hayleykboyd brings up the term “paranoid reading”, which she says “formulates knowledge as something that can be uncovered and brought to light, that guards against surprises and seeks a total account of a situation or text”. This approach probably applies to most people’s reading of Beast in the Jungle, so in that sense, readers are having an experience that parallels Marcher’s own paranoia about this supposed knowledge that he expects will be “brought to light” eventually. Hayley contrasts this “paranoid reading” approach to knowledge with the approach Helmers discusses, “the possibility that knowledge itself can be conceptualized in a different fashion, that we can use queer knowledge and point toward the possibilities of un-totalized epistemic systems” (112).

Hayley also discusses the sense of time James ascribes to Marcher as “time that is normative and not queer, time that is linear, made up of pasts and futures which “enable the enactment of desire,” a paranoid system (14)”. This relationship between paranoia and desire relates back to stephaniecaputo23’s exploration of Helmers and James.

Later in her post, Hayley argues that “there is no way to understand [the secret as motivation in the story] and still think of Marcher as essentially engaging in a paranoid, linear, or normative sense of time.” She brings up “Bartram’s paranoid system” (112), arguing that Marcher gave himself up to this system, surrendering to the paranoia of it. Many cases have been made both inside and outside of class that it is Bartram who is the real victim in this story, getting pulled into Marcher’s paranoia, but Hayley’s post helped me see the story in a new light. Bartram could be seen as someone who brought out the paranoia in Marcher, who maximized the intensity of the secret and brought it to the forefront of Marcher’s attention when he did not seem quite so intensely plagued by it prior to running into her. Bartram seems to instill a sense of urgency and paranoia in Marcher simply by involving herself in his secret. The story is rather open-ended, but I think cases can be made for both sides of the “Bartram as a victim” argument.

In my own post for the ‘paranoia’ tag, I wrote on something entirely different: paranoia in Sianne Ngai’s “Ugly Feelings”, Nella Larsen’s Quicksand,  and Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, The Scrivener”. I suggested that the ways in which Helga and Bartleby similarly avoid responsibility and the seemingly-obvious “right” choices, to put little effort into their own success, relate to paranoia. Both characters are paralyzed by their pasts, and their paranoid mindsets, their distaste for the conventions of “polite society”, seem to contaminate their respective presents.

Though the three of our posts each took different approaches to paranoia, I think stephaniecaputo23’s and hayleykboyd’s connection of paranoia to desire could relate to Ngai, Larsen, and Melville in that it is human to want security and success, and deep down it is hard to say that Helga and Bartleby did not want to succeed, but their paranoia did get in the way of their successes, leading them to suppress their efforts and hopes the way Marcher could have been suppressing his own sexual desires. All of these works involve paranoia, desire, and the self-sabotage that stands between the two.

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