Acts of Naming: The Family Plot in Fiction by Michael Ragussis

By Michael Ragussis

Michael Ragussis re-reads the novelistic culture by means of arguing the acts of naming--bestowing, revealing, or incomes a reputation; eliminating, hiding, or prohibiting a reputation; slandering, or preserving and serving it--lie on the heart of fictional plots from the 18th century to the current. opposed to the history of philosophic ways to naming, Acts of Naming finds the ways that platforms of naming are used to suitable characters in novels as assorted as Clarissa, Fanny Hill, Oliver Twist, Pierre, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Remembrance of items prior, and Lolita, and identifies unnaming and renaming because the locus of strength within the family's plot to manage the kid, and extra quite, to rape the daughter. His research additionally treats extra works via Cooper, Bront?, Hawthorne, Eliot, Twain, Conrad, and Faulkner, extending the idea that of the naming plot to reimagine the traditions of the unconventional, evaluating American and British plots, male and female plots, inheritance and seduction plots, and so forth. Acts of Naming ends with a theoretical exploration of the "magical" energy of naming in numerous eras and in several, even competing, different types of discourse.

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The namelessness that results from the radical disorientation Clarissa suffers at the hands of the family and Lovelace is a grotesque and violent version of the equivocalness of names she learns from Anna Howe. I am suggesting that inside the dark hollow of Clarissa's tragedy—her loss of family, her rape, her loss of name—lies her own awareness of the way in which "Clarissa Harlowe" is a fiction. And while the family and Lovelace cause the rape of her identity, her dire namelessness, Anna Howe is the cause of a benign violation: the name questioned and qualified.

Clarissa dramatizes the way in which the letter enters the world to be opened up to the reader's interpretation. The family and Lovelace misuse this circuit, break it down, violate it, in order to master the self. We see letters refused, forged, smuggled, ripped to pieces. While the family and Lovelace try to master Clarissa's significance, Anna and Clarissa's correspondence is a model of what might be called the intertextual self—the self signified, interpreted, amended, and perpetually resignified in the space that exists between the letter writer and the letter reader.

When the true name and the mark on the face become fully legible and correctly read, when they become once more equal, the plot is resolved. With Oliver as a "living copy" of his dead mother, we come to the idea that charges Oliver Twist with so much of its power: the raising of the dead, the dead coming alive through the living. In Oliver Twist the excitement of fast pursuits and narrow escapes, of living perpetually just this side of death, is counterbalanced by numerous narrative asides and extended meditations on the dead.

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