Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Rape, Crypt and Fantasm: Kleist's 'Marquise of O....' (Heinrich Von Kleist)

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Rape, Crypt and Fantasm: Kleist's 'Marquise of O....' (Heinrich Von Kleist)

Article excerpt

The term "trauma" denotes a physical and/or psychical "wound." As wound, a trauma implies that a violent event has punctured the body and/or mind. Indeed, through its Indo-European etymology, the word "trauma" has connotations of "piercing." Yet, as Freud discovered through his studies of neuroses and dreams what constitutes the traumatic event is less the violent nature of the puncture and more the fact that the psychic apparatus was not ready to understand the nature of the "piercing." The violence that "hits" the subject is beyond his/he understanding, and the poignancy of the trauma consists in the way that the perforation is internalized. In their psychoanalytic research, Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok have developed the notion of the "crypt" as the name for the place of this violence that hits a subject without being understood and admitte by him/her. In their writings, the "crypt" is the correlative of "incorporation"--as opposed to "introjection"--and the basis for a new theory o fantasy and fantasms.

Kleist's novella, the Marquise of O .... (1808), explicitly deals with a traumatic event and its "cryptic" implications. In this story about a woman who finds herself pregnant without knowing how or by whom, the action begins when a war breaks out in Northern Italy, and the castle of the Marquise's father is surrounded by enemy forces and eventually overwhelmed and invaded by Russian troops. The bombs, fire and troops drive the women and children deeper into the castle interior, until the Marquise, alone with enemy marksmen, is molested. Most often, impregnation is assumed to occur immediately after this scene when one Russian officer--the Count, Graf F...--violently disperses the assaulting soldiers, and escorts her to a still safe "wing of the palace." At precisely this place in the story, the Marquise is said to have "sunk down fully consciousless."(1) In the next sentence, a dash punctuates the text: "Here -- h took [Hier -- traf er], since soon thereupon her horrified women appeared, measures for calling a doctor" (11). Although idiomatically the German for "to take measures" is present (Anstalten treffen), syntactically that meaning is deferred by the opening of the sentence. The infinitive treffen originally mean "to strike," in the sense of hitting or meeting one's target in battle. "Hier - traf er" implies that it is within the dash that Graf F... sexually "struck" or "met" the Marquise: "here -- he took." By means of the punctuating dash, Kleist represents--by not "representing"--the poignancy of a traumatic rape.

Yet while the implication is that the Marquise received Graf F... sexually, other men are also implicated in her impregnation, and as we will see, the Marquise's impregnation has an ambiguous status in the text: when and where conception occurred is never clear. Throughout the remaining action of the novella--which consists in family rejections and re-acceptances of the pregnant Marquise, in verifications of her pregnancy by both a doctor and midwife, in Graf F...'s "courting" her, in the Marquise's placing a want-ad in order to discover the father, to find "a father no matter what the cost" (92) and in Gra F...'s marrying her not once but twice--the event of the impregnation of the Marquise is unexplained, inexplicable, almost unbelieved by the characters within the story. Dashes recur throughout the text, repeating the "original" dash of "Here -- he took," and a proliferation of dashes correlates stylistically with the problems of trauma, paternity and fantasy.

The first characteristic of the Marquise's traumatic impregnation--its inexplicability or incredibility--links both the event and the novella to the genre of the fantastic. According to Tzvetan Todorov, the fantastic consists in the reaction of hesitation and disbelief to something that, based on the fact that there is a reaction, must really have happened, but which can neither be believed nor disbelieved (31). The second characteristic of the Marquise's trauma links the issue of impregnation to fortification. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.