#j. hillis miller
[Catherine and Heathcliff] are united in childhood, separated in adulthood, and reach union again only in the boundless realm of death. Their love moves through a process of union, separation and reunion on a triple level which appears often in writings in the romantic tradition, and is like the dialectic of Hegel or like Novalis’ vision of human life and history.
J. Hillis Miller, The Disappearance of God: Five Nineteenth-Century Writers
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This is the public-facing rhetorical move par excellence of the radical academic theorist: revel in your radicalism in the seminar room and peer-reviewed journals, but describe your program in the most bland, banal, who-could-possibly-object way for general audiences. Did you know that Marxism is “a refusal to take things for granted”? Why not “follow your dreams” while we’re at it? Never mind the part where “[w]e shall put you in front of a good wall and shoot you,” to quote a poem of Brecht’s. You see this today, too, with the left-identitarians, thinkers who have a nihilistically extensive critique of liberal society—who posit in fact the urgent need to destroy this society—and then, when queried by the public or its representatives, will reply that it’s just about treating people fairly, dude.
But to give the formulation its due, if you truly take nothing for granted, if you never silence the critical intellect, you will in your own mind delegitimize your state and every state, the lives of your neighbors and then your very own life, and you will shoot yourself in the head, as in the aforementioned fictional case of Leo Naphta and the nonfictional one of Mitchell Heisman, possibly after you’ve shot some others à la Brecht or Naptha’s model Lukács, because the critical intellect left to its own devices will annul first the world and then itself. Which is why the profoundest thinkers, i.e., novelists and poets and playwrights, have always suggested a plunge into contact with reality to arrest deconstructive thought processes, from Hamlet to Herzog. Make art, make crafts, have sex, have a child, take a walk, take a drink, dig a garden, plant a tree, get revenge, get a cat—anything at all to remind you that the critical intellect allows itself to be annihilatingly disappointed at the world’s corruption only because it has lost touch with it, literally, and that criticism’s proper service to humanity is as guide and guardrail to action, not as universal solvent.
(Note the details of Hamlet’s example: he only had to kill one person, but deconstructive thought processes made him responsible in whole or part for at least four other deaths and made him suicidal as well; only when he resolved to “let be” could he strike his sole legitimate target, but by then the collateral damage was so great that he forfeited his own life and his country was conquered. A parable for the would-be revolutionary.)
Deconstruction at its best reminded us of these truths, as implied by the quotation from Montaigne that introduces Derrida’s epochal essay on “Structure, Sign, and Play,” but because it was premised on the very purity it set out to debunk—the centered structure organized by neat binary oppositions—it became a very purist argument for impurity. There’s always another binary to undermine over the horizon, always something else and more you could be doing to decenter; so deconstruction finally lent itself to the deranged purity spirals that have marred intellectual life recently. What deconstruction says about strong texts’ essential non-essentialism is basically right, but strong texts achieve this irreducible complexity on tides of emotion that criticism of all sorts has always been bad at capturing, making them elements of reality as well as interpretations of it.
I append all of the above to Leo Robson’s excellent essay-obituary for J. Hillis Miller, from which I draw the opening quotation. This witty catalogue is my favorite paragraph in the piece:
You might say that the effect of deconstruction, in its literary-critical mode, was to augment a presiding canon of largely B-writers (Baudelaire, Benjamin, Borges, Blanchot, etc) with a group of H-figures (Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger, Hopkins, to some degree Hawthorne and Hardy), and to replace a set of keywords beginning ‘s’ – structure, sign, signifier, signified, semiotics, the Symbolic, syntagm, Saussure – with a vocabulary based around the letter ‘d’: decentring, displacement, dislocation, discontinuity, dedoublement, dissemination, difference and deferral (Derrida’s coinage ‘différance’ being intended to encompass both). And there was also a growing role for ‘r’: Rousseau, rhetoric, Romanticism (one of de Man’s books was The Rhetoric of Romanticism), Rilke, and above all reading, a word that appeared, as noun and participle, in titles of books by de Man, Hartman, and most prominently Miller: The Ethics of Reading, Reading Narrative, Reading for Our Time, Reading Conrad.
Also this fun fact: “as late as 2012, [Miller] had never read anything by Samuel Richardson.” I am always fascinated by the gaps in brilliant scholars’ reading, and the more time I spent in academe the more I noticed how large the gaps really were. A generalist-dilettante, I try to read a little bit of everything and am consequently bad at being a completist of any one subject or author that a scholar necessarily is. I’ve read Pamela but not Clarissa; for that matter, I’ve read around in Derrida and De Man but, except for his rather psychedelic 2002 primer On Literature, not so much in the late and lamented J. Hillis Miller.
Further reading: my short story, “White Girl,” a dramatization of deconstructive thought processes in action, partially inspired by what I was seeing right here on Tumblr a little less than a decade ago.
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J. Hillis Miller, Wuthering Heights and the Ellipses of Interpretation
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The Disappearance of God by J. Hillis Miller
I don’t agree with a lot of Miller’s larger narratives of Wuthering Heights but I still love how he uses parts of the plots, characters, and parallels with Emily’s other writing to divine symbolism.
I personally don’t believe Emily was trying to indicate that Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship could not bear “earthy fruits” and showed that it “must lead unequivocally to death” - I don’t think they were the only ones at fault for their separation and following destruction of themselves or the Earnshaw and Linton families. I feel like Emily makes it clear that many of the characters had a part to play in the drama, and that it was also shaped by the society they lived in. Yet still, poetically the idea works? I think that’s emblematic of how Emily’s use of poetic imagery throughout the novel can, in turn, cause critics like Miller to view the novel through an often selective and highly mystical/allegorical lens.
I think this interpretation unfortunately also overlooks important details, particularly with how Cathy’s death is viewed by herself, Heathcliff, and Nelly - all of whom discuss their perspectives at length. I still want to (hopefully soon) organize my thoughts on that, as well as the deaths of the other characters, and write about it in more detail...but it is a lot to take on when most the characters die lol. So I might have to separate that by character or maybe by theme? Not sure yet.
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"To live is to read, or rather to commit again and again the failure to read which is the human lot."
from The Ethics of Reading by J. Hillis Miller
While I do really enjoy reading J. Hillis Miller’s ‘The Disappearance of God’, I don’t agree with everything he says. He describes Wuthering Heights as a fictionalized version of Emily’s religious beliefs, and sees Catherine and Heathcliff as almost completely spiritual and what little physicality they have is a detriment to their relationship because it necessitates a separateness on earth which must be mediated by their deaths. As I’ve mentioned, I don’t go that far with reading into the spiritualism in the book - at points it reads too deeply into certain scenes and others it glosses over scenes that solidify that the book is also concerned about human problems, feelings, and has some realism. In that way there are some similarities to Charlotte’s Jane Eyre.
This criticism is also very similar to those that see Catherine’s love for Heathcliff as her viewing him as only elemental and almost denying him personhood. Or that to the reader Heathcliff is meant to be a manifestation of Wuthering Heights in human form. They’re all rooted in making everything metaphorical. While Emily was arguably the most poetic of her sisters, similar to them, she still wrote about often terribly human problems, with periphery commentaries on gender, class, and race etc. Her poeticism and mysticism certainly adds to the complexity and beauty of the story but to see it as only poetic often ends up limiting the variety of topics and imagery to fit into the singular desired narrative. Still I do enjoy reading Miller’s interpretation because the way he frames the characters and problems are often so profound and force me to look at the narratives from other angles.
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The Disappearance of God by J. Hillis Miller
I had to read this essay bit by bit because its so dense...the interpretations are really fascinating though so its worth it.
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The disappearance of God by J. Hillis Miller
This is the kind of nuance I’m looking for. I’ve always thought it difficult to believe that Heathcliff’s actions when he returns isn’t in some way against Cathy - he had to have known it would hurt her to go after Isabella (for multiple reasons)...but at the same time he seems sincere when he tells her "I seek no revenge on you...you are welcome to torture me to death for your amusement.” This is why I hate the simplistic “scorned lover” take on Heathcliff’s character.
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I’ve reread J. Hillis Miller’s “Wuthering Heights and The Ellipses of Interpretation” after three years, prompted by quotes from it making rounds here in the last couple of days. I think I’ve understood it better this time since now I’m at least aware of Deconstruction though I still don’t feel like I always understand it.
It’s definitely a great essay. The richness of the text of Wuthering Heights and its ability to generate wildly different interpretations is the main reason why it is so fascinating. Every time I read criticism on Wuthering Heights or any attempt to explain it, there is always something that contradicts that interpretation. Every explanation of Wuthering Heights leaves a lot to be desired. There is always an aspect of the novel that is unaccounted for in each interpretation. So it is great that Hillis Miller wrote an essay on the impossibility of finding the meaning of Wuthering Heights.
I’m wondering whether the cultural studies of the last decades kind of avoid falling into the pitfalls of more classic literary criticism which attempted to explain the “meaning” and the “essence” of the text? More recent criticism I think tends to focus on one particular aspect of a text rather than undertaking the more ambitious task of explaining all of it within a single theoretical framework. One of the works that Hillis Miller cites, C. P. Sanger’s, is actually an example of this type of criticism. Hillis Miller says in his essay that Sanger tried to give an explanation of Wuthering Heights “in terms of the symmetry of the family relations in the novel or of Emily Bronte’s accurate knowledge of the laws of private property in Yorkshire”. It is true that Sanger gives an explanation of Wuthering Heights in those terms but he never claims to “explain” Wuthering Heights. He says: “I do not propose to discuss its literary merits, but to confine myself to the humbler task of investigating its structure, which presents certain peculiarities”. Sanger does not attempt to discuss the novel in its entirety, he just explains its legal aspects and time frame. Much of modern criticism also tends to focus on one aspect of a text, though it is rarely as purely technical as Sanger’s text. (Sanger’s text by the way is invaluable for Wuthering Heights criticism since it saved the novel from the charge of being clumsily constructed which was common in writings on it up until that time).
One of my favorite insights of the essay that wasn’t quoted here before was this:
I didn’t really think about this parallel before.
Sad Fact: J. Hillis Miller died a month ago :(.
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J. Hillis Miller, The Disappearance of God
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If the mystic says: “I am because I am God,” or if Descartes says he is because he thinks, Cathy must say: “I am Heathcliff, therefore I exist.” Her hyperbole is the climax and endpoint of the long tradition making love a private religion in which the loved one is God and there is a single worshipper and devotee.
J. Hillis Miller
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I reread Patsy Stoneman’s essay, “Catherine Earnshaw's Journey to Her Home among the Dead: Fresh Thoughts on Wuthering Heights and 'Epipsychidion,” and my feelings towards it pretty similar to how I feel about J. Hillis Miller’s essays. I enjoyed reading it but I don’t agree with 85% of it. I haven’t reread any of Miller’s takes (since there are plethora of metaphysical interpretations it would be so repetitive) and that probably allows for me to sill appreciate his essays as much as I do...I think rereading Stoneman’s essay was a bad idea because reading it a second time made it much less enjoyable and I read it much more critically.
There are lot of similarities between the metaphysical and Romantic love narratives, and they also share a lot of the same failings. They tend to be very selective about what scenes are analyzed and they aren’t put into a larger context, and they tend to be the most poetic scenes. Typically these arguments cannot place the meaning of the 2nd generation into the context of the novel either. I’ve already said quite a bit about the metaphysical arguments, so I’m going to try and discuss just the points in this specific essay. Sorry parts may be a little repetitive because critics often bring up the same quotes and ideas again and again. And this will be very long.
First, Stoneman identifies that there are two popular theories about Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship: “One is the myth of star-crossed lovers, who are cheated of marriage by social forces,” and then the metaphysical argument which, “presents Catherine and Heathcliff’s love as of a kind which is in itself incapable of social consummation.” She then volunteers a third option that is based on concepts of free love and/or “twin love” that can found in Romantic literature.
It is interesting, but I’m pretty sure Catherine also thinks she betrayed her own heart? She does tell Nelly she knows in her heart and soul she shouldn’t marry Edgar, and on her deathbed she says “If I’ve done wrong, I’m dying for it.” I know some take it to mean she thinks that she didn’t do what was wrong to her, but she does add “You left me too” so I think she does agree with Heathcliff that she, in a way, left him.
There is ample room in the novel to compare Heathcliff and Edgar as there are few similarities between them. The society in which they live is violent and hierarchical and that never seems to be questioned by any character - I think that is an important backdrop and allows for commentary on class, race, and gender. I don’t think this particularly has to do with how we view exclusive relationships. And based on the reasons Catherine gives for why she would marry one and not the other, I think Catherine understands she limited by this society. Her reasons for marrying Edgar are all very practical.
Instead of any fulfillment, from the start Nelly says Catherine struggled and had an “objection to her two friends meeting at all.” Catherine is aware they dislike each other from the start and this obviously makes things worse for her as Hindley wants her to marry Edgar, Heathcliff is more and more remote, and the two of them are stuck suffering Hindley’s cruelty. Nelly even says during this time, “I’ve had many a laugh at her perplexities and untold troubles, which she vainly strove to hide from my mockery.” If what Stoneman says is true she would have to be beyond naive, if not utterly foolish, to think that a relationship with both Edgar and Heathcliff would be desirable for spiritual fulfillment after Heathcliff’s treatment at the Grange, or his throwing applesauce on Edgar (which this scene brings her to tears and she blames Edgar for Heathcliff’s resulting punishment).
Stoneman does attempt to reconcile the Catherine confiding in Nelly that she knows in her heart and soul she is wrong to accept Linton’s proposal - she says this statement is negated by her insistence of never being parted from Heathcliff and that therefore means her love for him must simply be different and Romantic, rather than romantic/marriage oriented. I’ve written a lot about this already but so I’ll just say that is pretty selective of the whole conversation with Nelly.
Stoneman says, that from these scene and how we see Catherine greet Heathcliff this shows, “No sense of tragic irony seems to enter into her consciousness, nor any foreboding of difficulties.” ? Seems to be a bit of an overstatement when you consider that Edgar’s proposal brings Catherine to tears because she feels she isn’t meant to be with him. She doesn’t excitedly tell Nelly that she loves them both, and she doesn’t seem very optimistic when she says Edgar, “must shake off his antipathy, and tolerate him, at least.” While idealistic in thinking Edgar would help Heathcliff she is still pragmatic in understanding how few options she has. She fears Heathcliff listening to this conversation and will be hurt by this, or him finding out how much she loves him. Is her "delirious” joy upon Heathcliff’s return really a sign of her lack of conformity and utter loss at understanding their jealously? Or is it more likely because she thought he might be dead for those three years? She also tirelessly spends the next 3 months balancing Heathcliff’s dislike of Edgar (which I believe also spurs her to continue concealing her feelings towards him), Edgar’s jealously, and a new fun problem: Isabella’s infatuation of Heathcliff.
I won’t go too much detail in this because it’s so similar to the metaphysical argument, but Stoneman notes that in Shelley’s ‘Epipsychidion’ there isn’t just the concept of free love but of “twin love” between 2 of the 3 person triangle, so it assumes that Catherine/Heathcliff could more platonic or at least asexual.
In this interpretation Catherine “revises the traditional masculinity” of the “Romantic lover:”
“Shelly’s experiment depended on women’s readiness to be generous and co-operative, and Catherine’s similar plan founders on the combative notion of masculinity endorsed by our culture. Attempting to ‘divide’ her love between men who seem to her too different to be rivals, she finds them transformed into the ‘chained friend’ and ‘jealous foe’ of convention.”
I don’t agree with the idea that Catherine sees them as too different to be rivals? She does compare them which casts them as two men vying for the position of her husband. Also she based her decision to marry one and not the other on socioeconomic advantage, not who she loves more, or how they differ as people and might give her different kinds of love, although she points out her changing/more superficial and limited love for Edgar compared to the love she has for Heathcliff which are like the “eternal rocks beneath.”
Her love for Edgar is full of stipulations - she would “only pity him—hate him, perhaps, if he were ugly, and a clown.” Heathcliff’s degraded state does nothing to change her love, which is why I say her love for them is unequal. I honestly think saying she loves them equally yet differently, or that she is totally unaware of their jealousies is so preposterous based on the text, I don’t understand how so many critics, that have written extensively on the book all parrot it? Yet Stoneman continues to assert Catherine is “innocent” and “baffled” by their jealously. With almost everything she says about Catherine I find myself thinking, “well yes, but no?” For example, with this idea:
“Catherine’s apparent self-destruction has to be seen, not as willful egotism, but as a despairing response to her two lovers’ failure to love her enough to share her attention”
I do think this is mostly true. It is not willful egotism, and she is upset that they can’t tolerate each other - but Catherine’s illness is a long running problem that is closely associated with her relationship to Heathcliff and his absence that began after he first runs away. Through the next three years she says she “endured very, very bitter misery.” I’d say it has nothing to do with her feelings towards Edgar who she has been making herself distant to during this whole time, while telling Heathcliff (in spirit since he isn’t actually in the room): “If I dare you now, will you venture? If you do, I’ll keep you.”
Again I do somewhat agree with Stoneman’s interpretation of Catherine telling Heathcliff, “you and Edgar have broken my heart,” which Stoneman says, “can only be explained if we accept that while Catherine still relates to both her lovers, Edgar and Heathcliff have broken her heart by defining love as exclusive.” I think they do break her heart by their selfishness over her, and I think she never intends to hurt either of them. She has at different times suffered in order to protect one or the other. But this still doesn’t change her stronger, unconditional, yet socially unacceptable and thwarted love for Heathcliff. Her issue isn’t the loss of Edgar, they broke her heart by both behaving in a way that cast Heathcliff from her company. Divorce was not really an option for her - the most dysfunctional couple in the novel, Heathcliff and Isabella, never legally separate even. So why wouldn’t she try to keep the peace between them in order to be near Heathcliff? The Romantic love interpretation is difficult to reconcile with her rejection of Edgar which happens on a few occasions and most apparently when she tells him, “What you touch at present you may have; but my soul will be on that hill top before you lay hands on me again. I don’t want you, Edgar: I’m past wanting you. Return to your books. I’m glad you possess a consolation, for all you had in me is gone.”
As the essay went on I felt it got weaker. Stoneman says Catherine’s haunting of Heathcliff must be read as an “appeal against his failures of generosity.” Not because she wishes she was never parted from him, as Catherine herself said? Catherine doesn’t seem to die with any animosity towards Heathcliff - she forgives him for leaving her, asks for forgiveness, and tells him, “You never harmed me in your life.”
After Catherine’s death Stoneman says, “There is, after all, something in the haunting which the usual readings of the novel fail to explain. If the ghost of Catherine wails to be let in, and Heathcliff begs her to return, what is it that keeps them apart?” I think we’d have to all agree that what Lockwood saw was actually a ghost, and I have seen this interpreted a million times? Stoneman says it is Heathcliff’s own “implacable obsession with revenge, which effectively shuts her out of his consciousness.” Which I could agree if we are reading it assuming the ghosts are real...but then she says that Heathcliff reaches his heaven only as he abandons his revenge against Edgar and “at last he ‘comprehends in his person’ the preposterous simultaneity of her loves.” This made no sense to me. I don’t see any reason for thinking he begins to accept Catherine’s love for Edgar, which he kind of already had? He tells Nelly that he doesn’t physically hurt him for that reason, he just also believes she loves him more. And I would say he does actually defeat Edgar and Hindley? Just because he can’t also destroy Hareton and Cathy II doesn’t negate that in his lifetime he outlives his enemies and has control of everything and everyone at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange (which he never shows signs of regretting his actions). It might not have gone as far as he originally planned, but I would say he does sort of win. And his abandonment of revenge isn’t ever associated with Edgar? Heathcliff does give some insight to what causes him to lose interest in his plot, an aspect of it being the connection to Hareton. In a discussion between him and Nelly he tells her she may think he’s insane “if I try to describe the thousand forms of past associations and ideas he (Hareton) awakens or embodies.” It is because of this intense association with him that he says, “his society is no benefit; rather an aggravation of the constant torment I suffer: and it partly contributes to render me regardless how he and his cousin go on together. I can give them no attention any more.” I believe the last time Heathcliff mentions Edgar is right after his death and he tells Nelly that, “I wish he’d been soldered in lead,” and goes on to describe yet another plot against Edgar by having his and Catherine’s graves opened on the side nearest each other so that they don’t have any barriers between them and then, "by the time Linton gets to us he’ll not know which is which!” So the idea he softens towards Edgar or becomes more willing to share Catherine in anyway is...improbable to me.
The theory also suffers (like so many others), in ignoring the ending when forming the narrative. Stoneman mentions the three graves and says that the people seeing Heathcliff and Catherine’s ghosts are basically country folk who are inclined to sympathize with “Heathcliff's final possession of his 'woman’” and also most readers fall into these same “hegemonic constructions” by not considering that the "the sleepers in that quiet earth” are at peace together. I agree with @princesssarisa that it doesn’t quite fit into the fact that many of the people that see the ghosts didn’t support or even know of Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship - the young shepherd boy doesn’t seem to know who Catherine even is. To also say that the reader is projecting their desired ending doesn’t feel right because the ending is something that Heathcliff and Catherine have been foreshadowing through the whole book. Catherine says, “I’ll not lie there by myself: they may bury me twelve feet deep, and throw the church down over me, but I won’t rest till you are with me. I never will!” She doesn’t refer to Edgar, who she says can be buried anywhere, it doesn’t matter to her (poor Edgar). She also tells Heathcliff, “I shall not be at peace,” and “I only wish us never to be parted,” as well as other similar quotes implying that she will be waiting for Heathcliff to come to her. I don’t like the view that Catherine as so lacking agency in her relationship with Heathcliff either - I’ve never thought that he “possesses” her. She’s the one who makes the demand that he leave the world behind and join her - the end does seem to be him finally following her, as she says he always does.
And then, what of Cathy and Hareton? How do we reconcile the narrative with the features of the second generation? It would seem, if we assume Catherine has differing yet equal love of the two men, and wished for a relationship where they can be peaceful together, and then only scene we have of them together is in their graves, it feels horribly pessimistic. Our one Shelleyan model is dead and buried with two people incapable of overcoming their jealousies and possessiveness. When considering the ending with Hareton and Cathy, would we have to conclude this a cautionary tale of Catherine’s naivety? Stoneman does make almost this suggestion and says it could also be because Emily had watched Branwell and Charlotte get hurt by love married people, so it could could be showing what tragedy befalls if love is selfish and possessive. Though there is nothing to suggest that Hareton and Cathy love isn’t any of those things?
I must be terribly boring because I think the easiest way of describing Catherine and Heathcliff is that they are, “star-crossed lovers, who are cheated of marriage by social forces.” Obviously that is simplistic and glosses over their more spiritual aspects and certainly they are not how the 1939 film interpreted them, which Stoneman rightly say, “recasts the novel in class terms as 'the story of the stable-boy and the lady’” - but I still think its closer than saying they are models of Freudian psychology, siblings, celestial beings, or Shelleyan. There certainly is spirituality and complexities in their love, and throughout the plot, as well as other characters, but it is still very much possible to read too deeply into double meanings and what is left unsaid.
My end take - some lyricism of Epipsychidion is echoed in quotations from Catherine and I would have much preferred to compare and contrast the two works rather than the attempt to shoehorn the rest of the story into a similar narrative. I think if you made a comparison to just the part after Heathcliff returns, a really interesting and strong argument could be made about how Catherine does try to create a similar relationship as described in Shelley’s work. I don’t think the situation was ever her ideal, but she certainly has no desire to be cunning or vampish - that’s not in her nature, and her relationship with Heathcliff doesn’t necessitate them having sex. She does try to put into practice a semi-Romantic love triangle but I don’t think she harbors any delusions of Edgar’s and Heathcliff’s animosity. Rather than a bohemian approach, it is her forcefulness and controlling that keep them both at bay. Tellingly she tells Nelly, “I believe I might kill him (Edgar), and he wouldn’t wish to retaliate.” She feels confident in her sway over him to get what she wants and she wants to be able to continue her relationship with Heathcliff in anyway she can. It’s not necessary to revise and add new narratives to situations in the novel that are clearly able to be discerned from the text - such as Heathcliff’s failing desire for revenge or people seeing their ghosts at the end. I don’t think Epipsychidion is a terribly good lens to read Catherine through as her love can also be jealous, selfish, and possessive. There are too many aspects of Catherine’s character that are in conflict to the ideas Epipsychidion expresses.
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The death of J. Hillis Miller, in February, marked the end of an astonishing period in American academic literary criticism – North American really, since the dominant figure, Northrop Frye, was born in Québec and taught in Toronto.
The period might be said to start in 1947, with the publication of Frye’s first book, the Blake study Fearful Symmetry, and yielded a body of work drawing on the kind of Continental resources – Marxism and psychoanalysis but also theology, linguistics, hermeneutics, and mythopoetics – that had been accorded little place by earlier formalist approaches. Miller, the author of twenty-five books, was rare among the central figures in devoting his attention to study of the novel, from Emily Brontë to Ian McEwan. The arc of Miller’s career has been described by Fredric Jameson as ‘unclassifiable’, but in bald terms, it was the story of a pair of Francophone mentors, Georges Poulet and Jacques Derrida, who washed up in Baltimore – more specifically, the campus of Johns Hopkins, where Miller taught from 1952 until 1972. Miller welcomed their interventions and ran with them, transforming himself into a leading exponent of two critical schools, one – phenomenology – that remains more or less pegged to its post-war moment, the other – deconstruction – with wider fame and implications, and a more contested legacy.
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[...] one may say either that He is contained within the soul or that the soul is contained within Him, and in the same way the essence of every created thing is contained in God.
J. Hillis Miller, The Disappearance of God: Five Nineteenth Century Writers.
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J. Hillis Miller, The Disappearance of God: Five Nineteenth Century Writers
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Cathy and Heathcliff reach in death what they possessed in this world when they were unself-conscious children, and did not know of their separateness. They reach peace not through obedient acceptance of isolation, but through the final exhaustion of all their forces in the attempt to reach union in this life. Their heroism is, in Georges Bataille’s phrase, an “approbation of life to the point of death.” Cathy’s death is caused by their embrace: “An instant they held asunder; and then how they met I hardly saw, but Catherine made a spring, and he caught her, and they were locked in an embrace from which I thought my mistress would never be released alive. In fact, to my eyes, she seemed directly insensible.” Heathcliff too reaches death through the exhaustion of his vitality. This exhaustion is brought about by his attempt to reach Cathy's ghost: “I have to remind myself to breathe - almost to remind my heart to beat!”
J. Hillis Miller, The Disappearance of God: Five Nineteenth Century Writers.
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new georges bataille wutherig heights j. hillis miller analysis about to drop
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I know it’s a popular essay but I have to say I don’t like Georges Bataille’s take on Wuthering Heights. I think it’s general thesis is overreaching and every mention of Emily I can’t help but feel he’s a misogynist? Am I the only one that thinks that? I don’t know much about him so maybe I’m being judgmental? Its just in his opening sentences of his essay he says, “Emily Brontë, of all women, seems to have been the object of a privileged curse. Her short life was only moderately unhappy.” Like wtf?
And then later, “though Emily Brontë, despite her beauty, appears to have had no experience of love, she had an anguished knowledge of passion.” I’m sorry, despite her beauty? What does that have to do with anything? Do only pretty people fall in love? I don’t know I could be totally overreacting but it just rubs me the wrong way. If you want a super metaphysical take I would recommend J. Hillis Miller over Bataille any day.
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Besides making Heathcliff an evil devil - there are some who believe in an opposite narrative that makes him some affection starved romantic. Which is even more far fetched. I’m mean, that issue is pretty much openly dealt within the story with Isabella mistakenly romanticizing his nature. And it gives an unfortunate and completely bizarre idea that his bond with Catherine is because she nurtures him (not sure where they get this from???). They’ll say he loved her because she was kind to him as a child...she literally introduces herself by making faces and spitting at him so not sure about that lol This idea also really doesn’t notice Catherine’s declaration that their souls are the same. I think Emily pretty strongly portrays their relationship as being borderline mystical. They both certainly don’t care for the more socially accepted and subdued ideas of love (J. Hillis Miller writes about this brilliantly).
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It’s commonplace to call Woolf an impressionist in this peculiar sense, and yet it nails her novelistic craft. She is an inhabitant of minds. And the mind, in “Mrs. Dalloway” and later, in a more extreme sense, in “The Waves” (1931), is a kind of nebulous antenna tuning in and out of life’s frequencies, ever enveloped in its luminous halo. As the critic J. Hillis Miller once put it, the reader most often finds that she is “plunged within an individual mind which is being understood from inside by an ubiquitous, all-knowing mind.”
This is evident to us not from the novel’s immortal opening line — “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself” — but from the one immediately following, which serves as a kind of mirror to the first, tipping us off that we must reread it as something other than objective assertion: “For Lucy had her work cut out for her.” Suddenly, with the lightly colloquial “cut out for her,” we are in the mind not of an omniscient narrator but of a character — Clarissa Dalloway, as the succeeding lines make clear. The reader ceases to think that she is being told what Mrs. Dalloway said about getting the flowers, and begins to think instead that Mrs. Dalloway is just remarking on that fact, as if to herself. And that changes everything.
This narrative technique, known as free-indirect speech, was part of Woolf’s quiet revolution. Though she did not invent it — arguably Austen, Flaubert and Edith Wharton got there first — Woolf perfected this mode, coloring it with the anxiety of modern subjectivity. Open any novel of the past 50 years, and you will find the narrator reporting thoughts that, for reasons of diction and tense, can only be those of a character. With varying degrees of indebtedness, each of these is an heir to Woolf and her narrators, who enter the world of their fictions as Clarissa Dalloway enters the world of her relations, “being laid out like a mist between the people she knew best.” That a narrator need not fiddle with chess pieces from on high but might linger like a cloud among foggy minds is a feature of modernism that has, as it were, contaminated literature ever since.
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