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Page 2

REFERENTIALITY AND TRANSGRESSION: REPRESENTATIONS OF

INCEST AND CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE IN AMERICAN LITERATURE OF

THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

PETER NESTERUK

Ph. D THESIS

NOTTINGHAM UNIVERSITY, FACULTY OF ARTS

OCTOBER, 1994

(TY LIB

Page 167

164

open'; as plural and as placing the emphasis on the variation rather than
the repetition). However the cumulative nature of the transgressions
involved here, which result in the destruction and decay that end the
narrative, leaving the reader with a sense of tragedy and loss, would signal
the dominance of obsessive repetition within this text. 17 This would also
accord with the aspects of my reading of William Faulkner which suggest
that the conservative tendencies complicit in transgression, and therefore

in its mobilisation for affective purposes in literary aesthetics, must be

acknowledged before the process of overturning or producing a

contradictory 'double reading' can commence.

The triple braid of family, sex, and race are taken from the narrative of
The Sound and the Fury, and are re-twisted together in Absalom,

Absalom! into the threat of incestuous miscegenation which, with an epic

expansion of frame, produces an intensification resulting in another

narrative of degeneration and transgression. Behind these two different

kinds of deviation from a prescribed norm, the reader may discern the

archetypal figure of the Fall. Onto transgression is devolved the task of

revealing the depths of degeneration. Yet, the relation of index to origin is

confused as effect becomes cause repeating and reproducing the origin that

within it carries the hidden trace of racial exclusion that will emerge to

undermine it. The emergence of this exclusion occurs at the centre, in the

family, at the heart of the sacred unit of social reproduction. The door-way

of this emergence will be the portal of the profane, it will be clothed in the

language of the limit, the tabooed, the incestuous. Shadowing

miscegenation is the incest theme; this again suggests that we read

Abs as repetition, or variation, of the key concerns of The

Sou
-n-d- -a -nd It

h-9
-E

u--r Y-

17 For an alternative view see
Kartiganer, 'Faulkner's Art of Repetition', who regards The

So id-afld-fb-e-E= as
the only example of 'repetition backwards' in Faulkner's writings (p.

32).

Page 168

165

To the list of content transgressions reviewed above, I have added the

general categories of waste and destruction; these may be otherwise
defined as tragedy and sacrifice. It is under the rubric of sacrifice that I

would now like to continue my examination of Absalom, Absalom!.

If there can be no transgression without law, then it is also true that

there can be no law without transgression - the very presence of the

interdiction suggests a realm of possibility beyond. Yet not all of these

possibilities are necessarily profane. If the inevitability of transgression,

due to the pressure of desire, capability (power), or incitement is tamed

and transformed in ritual sacrifice, then the absorption of these ritualised

transgressions provides the definitions of what is proper and what is not -

the latter being shown in tamed form in the course of the ritual. A change

of context turns the profane into the sacred.

If ritual transgression is a form of sacrifice, a loss, it is also a form of

affirmation. The waste or wrong is transformed into a gift, or right (rite),

by becoming part of an 'economy', not of commodity exchange, but of

identity-18 Thus a 'gift' in one kind of exchange relation becomes that

which is exchanged (as sacrifice, gift, potlatch) for the confirmation of

collective identity within a group (or against another group) in another

kind of exchange. The economy of identity transforms the loss, or

destruction of other forms of circulation (rational?, economic 'profit' etc)

into a 'productive' gain in terms of individual or collective sovereignty.

Again, a change of context or viewpoint turns waste
into investment, the

profane into the sacred. Here
'sacrifice' is the double-voiced term that

bridges both cycles, perspectives, or readings

18 In this context, the contrasted terms,
'gift economy/ exchange economy', involve a

question of
dual, or of many kinds of, economy or exchange

(commodity/ identity,

constructive/
destructive, objective/ subjective, rational/ affective, economic/ ideological),

which in turn are produced
by, or reducible to, a single textual economy as the identification

and interpretation of
movements of meaning via difference in the text.

Page 334

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