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Tess's silent cry: The vocal object in Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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How far can the lacanian concept of the vocal object help us read a novel by Thomas Hardy and bring to light its modernity? In Tess of the d'Urbervilles, the motif of the stain (or spot) has a vocal quality: the vermilion words painted on the wall "shout themselves out", something is shown in the field of the gaze in lieu of the voice. Thus Tess's voice is hardly ever heard, her lament is never vocalized, it seems to be stuck in her throat. By making reference to Slavoj Zizek's analysis of Munch's painting, The Scream, I intend to show how the concepts of 'voice qua object' and 'gaze qua object' throw a light on the enigmatic question of voice in Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and thus appear relevant to literary studies. In normal life, the consistency of our experience of reality depends on the exclusion of the objet petit a from it. What happens in Tess's tragic world is that the 'object small a' has somehow got stuck in her reality, it has not been fully repressed and excluded. Tess occupies a borderline position in which the horror of the object is very nearly encountered. Tess will have to be hanged so that her voice may no longer be a threat, for the question involved is that of feminine jouissance, the dangerous enjoyment 'beyond the phallus' which has to be suppressed if phallic order is to prevail.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2008

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