Rhys and Adorno: How Do They Compare?

How does the style of Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys compare to Adorno’s “spiders’ web” writing style, “loose and irresponsible formulation” and the use of “vague expression” he praises in Minima Moralia?

In Good Morning, Midnight the protagonist, Sasha is living a life of constant uncertainty, confusion, grief, pain and trauma. Rhys’s writing style with her liberal use of ellipsis, chapter breaks, dialogue and monologue in multiple languages suggests she is writing in a “loose and irresponsible” way with “vague expression[s]” that leaves the readers open to analyze the text and fill in the blanks that’s left by the ellipsis.

The ellipsis that opens a sentence even after a chapter break tells readers that there is more to Sasha’s life and experience than what is written in the novel.  “…I got to a hotel near the Place de la Madeleline” (Rhys 143) is a sentence that starts the section after a chapter break and that preceded a sentence that ended, not with a period, but with another set of ellipses. This and many other passages in the text “permits the hearer to imagine whatever suits him and what he already thinks in this case” (Adorno 101). It allows the reader to think, analyze and imagine what he is reading instead of having each part of the protagonist’s experience spoon fed to them. The time between the ellipsis is at times unknown. What takes place in the character’s life is also at times unknown.

Good Morning, Midnight is like a “spiders’ web” but not quite the “tight, concentric, transparent, well-spun and firm” (Adorno 87) web the Adorno speaks of.  It’s a spiders’ web but it has many holes. Some many argue that the holes are the seemingly frantic use of ellipsis. It may even be considered a poor use of grammar and an inability to start or complete a sentence on Rhys’s part, not literary genius. On the other hand, it could be that Rhys wants readers to read between the lines, or create their own lines in the case of the ellipsis and chapter breaks. The untranslated languages, such as the French and German that’s used in the English text can confuse if not amuse readers. The use of language can be considered the “[s]shoddiness that drifts with the flow of familiar speech…” (Adorno 101). The “shoddiness” is the natural speech patterns and the multi lingual mind one can acquire when residing in a global city.

Sasha’s life can be defined as or compared to a spider furiously spinning the web of her life and constant mending the holes the weather, flying objects and giddy children cause. An example of Sasha furiously spinning is when she was meeting Mr. Blank for the first time. Knowing that her skills are limited, she feels it is a good idea to practice her German in her mind. “I at once make up in my mind that he wants to find out if I can speak German. All the little German I know flies out of my head. Jesus, help me!” She panics and start producing silk. “Ja, ja, nein, nein was kostet es, Wein ist eine…” (Rhys 24). The broken German monologue ends with a panicked Solfège. She is working on shoring up her web before someone puts a hole in it. Sasha wants to blend in her environment and stay safe.

One may ask if Good Morning, Midnight would have the same effect if it was “edited” in the way a high school English teacher would edit and grade a written text with the use of ellipsis that doesn’t fit the standard, chapter breaks that may seem obsessive and the use of language that may frustrate the reader. Rhys’s novel reflects life and the “looser” style Adorno speaks of and leaves the readers open to multiple levels of interpretation.




Fear, Failure and Relationships

In “Vincent’s Struggles”, Vanessatshionyi analyzes the film Time Out and the protagonist Vincent and explain his personality, emotional state and the social capital he uses to navigate though the world he is finds himself in.  The keywords or tags used: failed system, failure, fear, fear of change and relations  help guide this discussion. “Inverted Class Protrusion” by Bodonn opens up Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism and the concept of the good life with “mass delusion” being the tag Bodonn uses. “Helmer’s Take on Time” by Madisonduarte  analyzes the novel, The Beasts in the Jungle by Henry James and the concept of heteronormative coupling with the tags forgetting, queer, relations and  sexuality the explains the protagonist’s challenge. “Halberstam’s Take on Pedagogy” by Calexrose discusses The Queer Art of Failure by Judith Halberstam, focusing on her take of the education system with the keywords, academia, education and pedagogy. The similarity between the four conversations is the concept of fear, relationships, the expectation of living “the good life” however one defines it and failure being the end result for the subjects or characters.

In all of the tags listed and discussed, all nine of them can be divided into four groups. Failure, fear, fear of change, failed system being in the first group. Queer, relations, sexuality in the second group and mass delusion and forgetting being in the third group. Academia, education, pedagogy can be the forth group. Fear, relationships, education are the parent topics of the tags. Though the categories, including the parent categories may seem to be separate subjects, they all can be linked together to form a similar outcome when one lives thoughtlessly, improperly or without self –awareness. That outcome is usually failure.

Vanessatshiony points out that the protagonist in Time Out “uses his different roles, as a husband, son and a father, to navigate through a world where he does not have to get super close to those around him” (Vanessatshionyi). She explains how fear drives Vincent’s thoughts and actions and allows him to push away those who are closest to him including family and friends. Providing for his family financially, even in ways and methods that puts their emotional health at risk comes before anything else. The chasing of the “good life”, as Lauren Berlant in After the Good Life, An Impasse, imprints “a new mask” (Berland 196) onto Vincent’s face and life. This chase affects his “relations” or the relationships he’s cultivating though a good portion of his life. The fear he experiences, which is the fear of not being a good provider, is not limited to himself, “his children seem to fear him” (Vanessatshionyi), as the trait is passed on to them.

In Madisonduarte’s analysis on “Helmer’s Take on Time” and The Beasts in the Jungle, the tag: “relations” in some ways drives the story and also end it. Unlike Vincent’s relationships that is very peripheral, John’s relationships are more central and internal with May being the only person in his life. Madisonduarte  points out that “Marcher and May are not performing heterosexuality, but rather the interpretation of the two of them as a heteronormative couple is based on a shared history and their subsequent relationship that mirrors traditional courtships.” It is suggested that May lay in waiting for John to commit to her until her life ends.  Madisonduarte concluded that this makes her “unfulfilled desire so much sadder, because, despite the amount of power she has over Marcher’s life, she is unable to gain the one thing she needs from him.”  Though “fear” is not mentioned in the conversation, one could argue that fear is a driving force in John’s and May’s life together. Though sexuality is implied in the essays, it seems like its secondary to fear.

Though the above keywords were not mentioned in “Inverted Class Protrusion” by Bodonn, fear can be intertwined in it. “The painstaking restlessness that fatigues Vincent throughout the movie seems to me to be a reaction of disillusionment from the deflective optimism that creates these good life fantasies” (Bodonn). One could ask what is driving Vincent to the levels he is shooting for. What force is propelling him?  Vincent is working diligently to prevent the failure Judith Halberstam writes about in The Queer Art of Failure. Since Vincent is not the “queer” Halberstam writes about, he is not going to experience the freedom to “escape the punishing norms that discipline behavior and manage human development with the goal of delivering [him] from unruly childhoods to orderly and predictable adulthoods” (3). In other words, he never develops and that brings Vincent back to square one, the job interview at the conclusion of the film.

“Halberstam’s Take on Pedagogy” pinpoints the author’s take on the failure of pedagogy and the education system. The keywords, academia, education and pedagogy can also be eventually linked to fear and eventually failure. Though Halberstam’s “Queer Art of Failure” discussed various types of failure, my discussion focuses on education. Failure and fear generally goes hand-in-hand and the terms that’s often used in pedagogy when it comes to avoiding failure, “’rigor’, ‘excellence’, and ‘productivity’” (Calexrose). This could also be the “mass delusion” Bodonn wrote about in his essay.

The tags in the discussion, though on the surface can seem separate, they all come together in the end. Fear and eventually failure being the end result. Relationships, especially interpersonal relationships are usually sacrificed in the process.

Vincent’s Failure

In the film Time Out (2001) the protagonist, Vincent experiences a major loss in his life, the loss of his job. The impact and result of this type of loss is defined by Lauren Berlant in After the Good Life, An Impasse when she writes that the result of this type of event is called an impasse. According to Berlant, “[a]n impasse is a holding station that doesn’t hold securely but opens out into anxiety, that dogpaddling around a space whose contours remain obscure” (199). In other words, an impasse is a state of being.  With Vincent, this occurs after the “forced loss” he experiences. Vincent’s impasse appears in seemingly illogical behaviors such as creating a double life, one life he lived at home with his family and a second life he lived while borrowing money from his father, scheming money from his friends and eventually selling counterfeit goods. This “dogpaddling around a space” is his way of not only dealing with his loss in the way his wife and children may have wanted him to, but finding an alternative of going back to the failed system, or life he was ousted out of. He’s pretending to engage without actually participating.

Regarding optimism, Berlant writes that Time Out “witness the blow to traditional props for optimism about live-building that had once sustained the aspirationally upwardly mobile, and pay attention to how different kinds of people catch up to their new situation” (192). We see this in Vincent and those in his circle. Everyone in Vincent’s life was a participant in his fantasy of upward mobility including his family and friends.  His friends, those who seemingly recklessly gave Vincent money to “invest” are living with their own financial challenges and long to “catch up”.

Though it may seem that according to Berlant, he should have “a recession grimace” (196) stamped on his face under the assumption he lived the “good-life” prior to his termination, Vincent’s grimace seems to only appear  when he is challenged by those who know his truth. The security guards, his oldest son, Jean-Michel, and Jaffrey knows the real Vincent. One may wonder if Vincent wants the so-called “good life” back especially when he severs tied with a long-time co-worker and friend, Jaffrey and he is not honest with his wife and children. The other possibly that he does want the good life back, but only on his terms and conditions, not the terms and conditions he once had.

Jean-Michel is another person that saw who Vincent really is. Vincent’s fantasy and method of obtaining upward mobility is obvious to Jean-Michel since Vincent’s game is very familiar to Jean-Michel and the hotel security guard. Jean-Michel’s method of optioning upward mobility is less than honorable but effective. As Berlant mentions, Time Out manages to show how “different kinds of people catch up to their new situation” (192).  Vincent’s failure to own or admit who he is is only visible to Jean-Michel because Jean-Michel is a version of Vincent; only Jean-Michel is more experienced and is not ashamed.

At the conclusion of Time Out a new managerial position practically falls into Vincent’s lap, and this is when the “permanent grimace” returns to his face. He doesn’t want to go back to the life he was dismissed from. His story ends as he goes back to the beginning. He experiences another impasse, but this time it is the second type of impasse Berlant defines. For Vincent, this impasse “is what happens when one finds oneself adrift amid normative intimate or material terms of reciprocity…coasting though life, as it were, until one discovers a loss of traction” (200). The double life he briefly lived is coming to an end and it’s no longer in his hands. He is returning to precarity. According to Berlant “percarity is a condition of dependency” (192).  For Vincent, this is his failure.

The “Beast” in The Beast in the Jungle

“The real form it should have taken on the basis that stood out large was the form of their marrying. But the devil in this was that the very basis itself put marrying out of the question. His conviction, his apprehension, his obsession, in short, wasn’t a privilege he could invite a woman to share; and that consequence of it was precisely what was the matter with him. Something or other lay in wait for him, amid the twists and the turns of the months and the years, like a crouching beast in the jungle. It signified little whether the crouching beast were destined to slay him or to be slain. The definite point was the inevitable spring of the creature; and the definite lesson from that was that a man of feeling didn’t cause himself to be accompanied by a lady on a tiger-hunt. Such was the image under which he had ended by figuring his life.” (43)

In this third-person narrative, James lets us into John Marcher’s innermost thoughts in regards to his life, the beast John is obsessed with, and his relationship with May Bartram. The “beast” is the object of John’s fear and premonition that carries him and May throughout the story. It’s a “secret” that is so dreadful May is the only other person that knows about it. James uses the words “secret” and “it” many times, possibly to add more drama to the story. Though “he really didn’t remember the least thing about her” (35) when they reunited after spending many years apart , John and May eventually grow and bond together. He courts her by taking her “to the National Gallery and the South Kensington Museum, where, among vivid reminders, they talked of Italy at large” (42) and bestow her with gifts and his presence on her birthday while now considering her side of the relationship and how she may respond to this level of intimacy.

Though John and May become exceedingly close, marrying her is not an option for John. He fears what would happen to May when, not if, this beast makes itself known and come after him. Even though he “invites” May into his life, his fear kept him from being intimate with her. He’s is physically close to her, but he is emotionally isolated. His obsession of “something or other” or the best laying “in wait for him” pushes him away from May. Though May knows about the beasts in the jungle, he is not direct with her about it. He gives her just enough. Just enough to keep him satisfied and secure and we see this were James writes that John “had a screw loose for her, but she liked him in spite of it and was practically, against the rest of the world, his kind wise keeper, unremunerated but fairly amused and in the absence of other near ties, not disreputably occupied” (44). May reveals to John her awareness of what she is to him when she exclaims “I’m your dull woman, a part of the daily bread for which you pray at church. That covers your tracks more than anything” (46). It’s possible that May knows as much about the beasts as the readers of the novel.

The deep thoughts and the beast that James reveals to us is many pages of fear, obsession, and premonition.  What the beasts actually are is less important than the process of John’s life and how his obsession eventually causes him to fail.

James, Henry. The Beast in the Jungle and Other Stories. New York: Dover Publications, 1993. Print.

Halberstam’s Take on Pedagogy

In the introduction to the The Queer Art of Failure Judith Halberstam challenges pedagogy, when it comes to the intention, method and the result of how students are educated. The options students are left with are limited to either success which is finding “the land of milk and honey” or failure, or being delegated to “gift shops” which is the only other option.  Halberstam’s use of the SpongeBob SquarePants dialogue lay the groundwork for how he defines failure and pedagogy. His use of SpongeBob SquarePants quotes and examples from other popular cartoons and comedic movies is his way of interpreting and challenging academia. (1)

In school, both primary and secondary, failure is not an acceptable option and doesn’t offer any positive reward or praise from the outside, yet Halberstam points out that not only “[f]ailing is something queers do and have always done exceptionally well” (3), but he emphasizes out that failing can be rewarding, unlike what pedagogy implies. In academia there is a “members only” attitude.  Exemplary of this is when Halberstam’s use of terms “serious” and “rigorous”. Additional evidence of this attitude is found in work of Fred Moten and Stefano Harney. They emphasized the words: “rigor,” “excellence,” and “productivity. These words seemed to strongly support the notion of “members only” attitude.  .

These words are often found in pedagogy. And, can found function as “code words…for disciplinary correctness” (6).  This not only limits the membership pool, but it doesn’t “allow for visionary insights or flights of fancy” (6). Flexibility is not allowed and because of this, many members, especially in the sciences, have vacated the field.

In pedagogy according to Halberstam, university students are assessed based standardized exams results and “knowledge of cannons” over intellectual vision to keep the “dictates of the discipline” unchallenged, even in the fields that have been proven unstable in recent years. “[Q]uirky and original thought” (7) or thinking that takes place outside the box is being squashed by primary school education and universities and Halberstam further explain how this is being done. How he explains the “university structure” in the introduction reads more like a description of a watchtower from another time than an educational institution by his use of terms such as “jealously guards” and “boundaries”. (7)

One of the ways Halberstam challenges the pedagogy is by quoting Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, an American academic scholar. She “once said, ignorance is “as potent and multiple a thing as knowledge” and that learning often takes place completely independently of teaching” (12). In Halberstam’s personal experience as a student he lightly questions, probably in jest, his ability to be taught. He states:

As someone who never aced an exam, who has tried and tried without much    success to become fluent in another language, and who can read a book without retaining much at all, I realize that I can learn only what I can teach myself. (12)

His personal experience affirms his previous statements. Not only is he speaking for many in academia, he is speaking for himself, and his fellow “queers”.  His personal example is followed by an example that is also familiar to many students and teachers around the world and that is the conundrum of “cultural and racial and class differences between the teacher and [their] students”. While summarizing the French documentary, The Class, Halberstam further explains the issues that arise when instructors insist on using a cookie cutter method for teaching their class, especially a racially and ethnically diverse class. “[L]earning is a two-way street” goes against the standard pedagogy of the teacher simply pouring knowledge into the head of the obedient and thoughtlessly compliant student.  (13)

Halberstam’s challenge of the pedagogy emphasizes more on how students, ideally, should be instructed. Using the experience of a French instructor, Jacques Ranciére, Halberstam explains that “teaching was not in the slightest about cramming students with knowledge and having them repeat it like parrots.” Ranciére’s noticed that his Belgian “students were learning to read and speak French and understand the text Télémaque without his assistance”.  Ranciére observed, listened and leaned from that experience. (14)

Halberstam’s claim about the standard way of retaining knowledge in an academic setting sets students up for failure, and failure in our society is unsatisfactory.

Halberstam, Judith. “Introduction.” The Queer Art of Failure. Duke University Press, 2011. 1-25. Print.