The Semantics of Desire: Changing Models of Identity from Dickens to Joyce
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Semantics and desire, signification and force, cultural value and natural impulse: the interplay of these paired terms helps to stabilize human identity. No self is likely to be imagined free of one member of the pair, composed wholly of its opposite. This book seeks to show that the protagonists of mid-Victorian fiction cluster as near to one pole as the protagonists of Modernist fiction locate at the other. From Dickens and George Eliot through Hardy and Conrad toward Lawrence and Joyce, the protagonistic self becomes less a figure defined by semantics, signification, cultural value, and more one defined by desire, force, natural impulse. The immaculate self—self-withholding and self-aware—gradually cedes place to the incarnate self—sexualized and immersed beyond self-knowing in experience.