«A Dissertation by SARAH ELIZABETH HART Submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies of Texas A&M University in partial fulfillment of the requirements ...»
4. Sacks suggests that "the threat of death" may "drive the mourner back to the earlier form of narcissism" that characterizes the mirror stage of infancy (10, 9). This stage, which follows the child's primary, "undifferentiated union" with her mother, entails the child's recognition of an external "idealized image" of herself, either in literal mirror images or in other people (Sacks 9). The child fails, however, to recognize fully the exteriority of this self-image, attaching her emotions to it and mistakenly feeling herself "to possess.... [its] integrity and functional completeness..." (Sacks 9). The child thus remains bound to "a condition of primary narcissism" in this stage, although Sacks claims it is a stepping stone toward a healthy "formalized identity" (10). The mourner may regress to this narcissistic stage, suggests Sacks, if she withdraws her emotions—or libido—from the lost dead and then reattaches that emotion to herself instead of to an external object (10). This reattachment of emotion to the self/ego defines Freud's theory of melancholia, which he claims "borrows some of its features from mourning, and others from the process of regression from narcissistic object-choice to narcissism" (250).
to Goldengrove's leaves is superficial and merely implies her fundamental emotional investment in herself and her own death.
The "pervasive elegiac tone" of "Nothing Gold Can Stay" seems to express the speaker's own narcissistic mourning (Sanders and Vogel 240). The speaker may project his own sense of loss onto the landscape much as the speaker of "Desert Places" projects his "loneliness" onto his wintry surroundings (Frost, "Desert Places" 8). Although the speaker of "Desert Places" more overtly personifies the "lonely" landscape "[w]ith no expression, nothing to express," the speaker of "Nothing Gold Can Stay" seems subtly to project his own "grief" onto the spring-time scene in the sense that he recognizes loss more readily than presence (Frost, "Desert Places" 9, 12; "Nothing" 6). In "Nothing Gold Can Stay," the "cycle of the seasons seems bent on destruction" and "the downward movement" toward death "begins almost immediately" observes Roberts W. French, in contrast to "[c]onventional thought" that the natural "pattern... moves from birth (spring) to maturity (summer) through aging (autumn) to death (winter)" with the possibility of rebirth (158). Although critics like Quinn and Freeman recognize in the poem the "promise of natural rebirth," the poem seems to focus primarily on loss, as the title and final line imply that "[n]othing gold," not even rebirth itself or cycles of renewal, "can stay" (Freeman 131; Frost, "Nothing" 8). This pessimistic focus on loss may reflect the speaker's own mournful attitude. Quinn suggests that Frost "pay[s] tribute... to the importance of the human consciousness within a landscape," affirming the speaker's projection of himself onto the landscape much like, as Slakey claims, Margaret "projects on the grove losing its leaves... the loss of Eden" via her "eye informed by self" (Quinn 623; Slakey 28). Both Frost's speaker and Margaret seem to project themselves onto their surrounding landscapes because they both mourn narcissistically.
Like Frost's speaker, Margaret also seems to ignore or be unaware of the natural cycle of renewal and rebirth. She mourns for the dying autumn leaves, but "Goldengrove['s] unleaving" is part of the natural cycle of renewal—new leaves will return in the spring, but Margaret seems to see only permanent death (G. Hopkins, "Spring" 2). Margaret responds to the autumn leaves as if they were a sign of a "blight," a term which denotes, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, a lethal disease of plants ("Blight").5 Margaret's grief for the autumn leaves implies her focus on death, as if the trees themselves were dying from a blight, instead of merely shedding their leaves in their annual cycle of renewal. Since the trees are not actually dying, Margaret mourns for her own death—and, by implication, for the "blight" of human death—according to Hopkins's narrator (14). Hopkins's metaphorical use of "blight" to describe human mortality differentiates mortality from the trees' cyclic loss of leaves (14). Margaret's inattention to Goldengrove's cycle of renewal suggests that she projects her own sense of permanent loss onto Goldengrove. Hopkins emphasizes Margaret's process of projection by metaphorically identifying her death with an arboreal "blight" (14). As Margaret views her own death in terms of Goldengrove's falling leaves, Hopkins in turn identifies her death in terms of arboreal death. Margaret's projects her own sense of death onto
5. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "blight" as "[a]ny baleful influence of atmospheric or invisible origin, that suddenly... destroys plants, affects them with disease, arrests their growth... a diseased state of plants..." ("Blight"). "Blight" can also refer specifically to a "species of aphis, destructive to fruit trees" ("Blight").
Goldengrove much as Frost's speaker seems to project his own sense of loss onto nature through his own diminished attention to nature's cyclical renewal.
Unlike Frost's speaker, Margaret's youthfulness seems to contribute to her grief according to the narrator's interpretation of her "fresh thoughts" that allow her to "care for" leaves now, before her "heart grows older" and "colder" (G. Hopkins, "Spring" 4-6).
Youthfulness is characterized by narcissism that makes loss more acute, as, for example, in an infant's narcissistic "mirror stage" of development (Sacks 9-10). Sacks explains that the mirror stage, which follows the child's primary, "undifferentiated union" with her mother, entails the child's attempts to recognize an external "idealized image" of herself, either in literal mirror images or in other people (Sacks 9). The child fails, however, to recognize fully the exteriority of this self-image, attaching her emotions to it and mistakenly feeling herself "to possess.... [its] integrity and functional completeness..." (Sacks 9). The child thus remains bound to "a condition of primary narcissism" in this stage, although Sacks claims it is a stepping stone toward a healthy "formalized identity" (10).
Sacks also emphasizes the mirror stage's mournful character as the child, who in beginning to distinguish herself from others, "'master[s]'" the absence of her mother (Freud qtd. in Sacks 10). Freud describes how this mastery of or way of coping with the loss of a loved one occurred in the fort-da game that his grandson played (Sacks 10).
When the child's mother left the room, Freud's grandson "controlled his anger and grief" by repeatedly casting out a toy reel while saying "fort" and then retrieving it while saying "da" (Sacks 11). The syllables "fort" and "da," Freud interpreted, signified "gone" or absence and "here" or returned presence, while the reel itself symbolized the mother (Sacks 11).This game facilitated the child's "acquiescence to separation from his mother," and thereby facilitated his recognition that absence and loss are not always permanent—that his mother and other loved ones would return (Sacks 11). Similarly, as a child becomes aware of object permanence beyond her perceptions, as, for example, when she realizes that a cup hidden behind a box is still there even though she cannot see it, she moves beyond a narcissistic phase in which anything not immediately present or perceptible by her has lost forever, vanished from reality.
Although these developmental stages seem to reflect the immaturity of a narcissistic world view, they may also reflect a reality of human presence—that beloved people and things will not always return, that loss is sometimes final, and, in the end, is final for each of us in our own deaths, which prevent us from returning or experiencing others' returns. For example, death would prevent Margaret from experiencing the return of springtime leaves and Frost's speaker from experiencing the return of spring's early golden flowers. The awareness of their own deaths thus seems to motivate their inappropriately mournful responses to nature, as Hopkins's narrator observes about Margaret's grief.
Their narcissistic projection of their own fear of death onto nature, however, may reveal a reality in nature as well. The autumn leaves that Margaret mourns will be lost forever—those same leaves will not return rejuvenated in the spring.6 Margaret and
6. Instead, they will decay and enrich the soil, nourishing the trees and indirectly feeding the new spring foliage. Such natural renewal itself seems temporary in the big Frost's speaker focus on the loss of specific leaves and flowers, however, may reflect more emphatically Margaret's and Frost's speaker's sense of their own specificity and uniqueness, which their own deaths will end. Such focus on the specific, the particular may always reflect our narcissistic fears of our own deaths, although Ping and Reed suggest that such "concern for the particular" is a defining trait of the poet (119). The similarities between Margaret's and Frost's speaker's mournful projections suggest, as Freud recognizes, that narcissism perseveres through adulthood, in melancholia specifically for Freud, despite the changes this attitude may undergo as a person matures (250). Sacks agrees that the adult mourner may regress to an infantile, narcissistic stage if she withdraws her emotions—or libido—from the lost dead and then reattaches that emotion to herself instead of to an external object (10). Narcissism's persistent presence in mourning of people of all ages demonstrates continuity between youthful and mature attitudes toward loss.
Narcissism may be an essential part of mourning not only for Margaret and Frost's speaker, but also for all mourners. Such narcissistic mourning, according to Hopkins's speaker, implies the mourner's separation from others, which he seems to view as a fundamental condition of subjectivity. Narcissism may underlie all emotions, according to Levinas, who explains that "emotion is always emotion for something moving you, but also emotion for oneself. Emotion therefore consists in being moved— being... overjoyed by something, saddened by something, but also in feeling joy or sadness for oneself" ("Ethics" 84). Emotion is always partly about oneself because picture since there may come a time when nature and our planet as we know it ceases to exist. Even then the death of our planet may contribute to larger cycles of the cosmos.
emotion is always motivated in part by fear for one's own death; as Levinas claims, "All affectivity... has repercussions for my being-for-death... so there is a turning back on oneself and a return to anguish for oneself" ("Ethics" 84). Anguish or fear for our own deaths may manifest itself in all emotion because we attend to and are moved by things that maybe potentially lost, if only to our attention. Vulnerability may always contribute to directing our attention and emotions to one thing instead of another, and the vulnerability of other things reminds us of our own vulnerability to death. Because emotion is always partly one's own death, it seems to prevent us from being genuinely about others and thereby from being genuinely connected to others. Levinas thus seems to affirm Hopkins's sense that personhood seems "blight[ed]" by the problem of separation from others (G. Hopkins, "Spring" 14).
Narcissistic fear for one's own death, however, may not entirely separate us from others. Although Levinas juxtaposes fear for one's own death with "[f]ear for the other man's death," which is the ethical, responsible attitude, such concern for others may be implied in one's fear for her own death ("Ethics" 84-85). Fear for someone else's death entails attending to the "injustice which inheres, at least potentially, in every death" for Levinas (Spargo, Vigilant Memory 64). Injustice implies a network of relations, a context that includes others for whom justice may exist, others who determine what does and does not count as just, and others who may fall victim to injustice, especially in death. Justice and injustice are communal, which Levinas recognizes in his assumption that "every subject exists in some socio-structural relation to injustice" (Spargo, Vigilant Memory 64). For Levinas, the communal context of injustice compels the subject's responsibility for protecting the other from injustice, to which she is vulnerable.
The subject herself, however, may also fall victim to injustice, and injustice may inhere in her death as well as in the other's death. In one sense, my death is unjust because death separates me from the other for whom I care, for whom I am responsible, and to whom I am bound—death deprives me of my capacity for responsibility, of my ability to respond and connect to others. In a Levinasian sense, death may inflict injustice upon the subject by depriving her of her ability to respond and connect to others. In the event of death, the subject loses her ability "to be able," her human agency and capacity for responsibility (Levinas, "Time" 42, 47). In describing "our relationship with death," ("Time" 41), Levinas explains, "What is important about the approach of death is that at a certain moment we are no longer able to be able... It is exactly thus that the subject loses her mastery as a subject" ("Time" 42). Although the ultimate loss of such "mastery as a subject" would be the experience of dying, Levinas suggests that such "mastery" may be inhibited in experiences of suffering, pain, and sorrow ("Time" 39). While we are alive, death signifies the loss of this "mastery" or ability "to be able," and it is the threat of this loss, or even of experiences of its partial loss, that terrify us ("Time" 42). Levinas describes the meaning that the threat of death holds for us due to the nature of the event of death and what happens in the experience of dying.