This article examines two passages from two novels – one where rape is contested and the second where there is no doubt that rape has occurred. It is concerned with rape, not so much as a social phenomenon, but instead as a representation in fiction as an event, which cannot not be seen outside the assemblages that place rape into a particular category. Both these writers in representing the event of rape do so with attention to the complexity of expressing it, the nature of all its parts, not only body parts but perspectives of the participants as much as the voices that speak it. Deleuze and Guattari argue that we are “nothing but [haecceities]” (1987: 289). For them a haecceity is “a degree, an intensity… an individual” that can enter into “composition with other degrees, other intensities, to form another individual” (1987: 279). They argue that the assemblage that is the haecceity can “cease to be subjects to become events, in assemblages that are inseparable from an hour, a season, an atmosphere, an air, a life” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 289).
The characters in these novels can be viewed as haecceities, individual assemblages in encounters and becomings with other haecceities or events. These characters – David Lurie in Disgrace and Chandin and Mala Ramchandin in Cereus Blooms at Night – become the event of sexual abuse in their respective novels.
At heart this article is an appreciation of the representation of the relationship between literature and life, the realisation that “writing [itself] is a question of becoming… a process, that is, a passage of Life that traverses both the liveable and the lived” (Smith and Greco, 1997: 1).
Rape is an event in both Disgrace and Cereus Blooms at Night. More than one act of rape occurs in each novel and the immediate and cumulative effect of each act is a disruptive change personally, socially and politically for each character. The focus is on David Lurie and Melanie, the student he is accused of raping in Disgrace and Chandin and Mala Ramchandin in Cereus Blooms at Night. This article aims to consider the event on the plane of consistency through a Deleuzian and Guattarian lens. It will approach the character as a haecceity, an assemblage not separate from its surrounds, on this plane. This approach opens up discussion of the act and its impact rather than providing an inward focus. Mala Ramchandin, for example, could easily be seen as and labelled a victim but she is not purely one. Imbued with the characteristics and affects of the unique event of rape, they further the impact of the act through other becomings in their fictional lives.
Deleuze and Guattari deal with ‘the event’ in A Thousand Plateaus and in What Is Philosophy?Deleuze continues his ruminations on the event in The Logic of Sense, Dialogues II and in one of his last lectures on 10th March 1987. The examples he gives include a stationary chair and the Great Pyramid. He explicates on both in terms of time – every ten minutes that passes reinforces the idea of these objects as meaning something, as being relevant as events. In The Logic of SenseDeleuze maintains:
Events are ideal [and] the distinction… is not between two sorts of events; rather, it is between the event, which is ideal by nature, and its spatio-temporal realisation in a state of affairs… Events are ideational singularities which communicate in one and the same Event. They have therefore an eternal truth and their time is never the present which realises them and makes them exist. Rather, it is the unlimited Aion, the Infinitive in which they subsist and insist (Deleuze,1990: 64).
This extract succinctly presents the issues that this paper attempts to explore; for instance, the link between the ideal and the spatio-temporal dimensions of the event. Of interest also is the notion of the event with a capital ‘E’, the potential for communication between and within the various acts of rape, and how time is depicted, how it is seen to pass in the moment, the hours, the years that rape lingers.
The first incident of rape in Disgrace is recounted seemingly through the protagonist, Professor David Lurie’s eyes. It involves him and his student Melanie:
At four o’clock the next afternoon he is at her flat. She opens the door wearing a crumpled T-shirt, cycling shorts, slippers in the shape of comic-book gophers, which he finds silly, tasteless. He has given her no warning; she is too surprised to resist the intruder who thrusts himself upon her. When he takes her in his arms, her limbs crumple like a marionette’s. Words heavy as clubs thud into the delicate whorl of her ear. “No, not now!” she says, struggling. “My cousin will be back!” But nothing will stop him. He carries her to the bedroom, brushes off the absurd slippers, kisses her feet, astonished by the feeling she evokes. Something to do with the apparition on the stage: the wig, the wiggling bottom, the crude talk. Strange love! Yet from the quiver of Aphrodite, goddess of the foaming waves, no doubt about that. She does not resist. All she does is avert herself: avert her lips, avert her eyes. She lets him lay her out on the bed and undress her: she even helps him, raising her arms and then her hips. Little shivers of cold run through her; as soon as she is bare, she slips under the quilted counterpane like a mole burrowing, and turns her back on him. Not rape, not quite that, but undesired nevertheless, undesired to the core. As though she had decided to go slack, die within herself for the duration, like a rabbit when the jaws of the fox close on its neck. So that everything done to her might be done, as it were, far away (Coetzee, 1999: 24 – 25).
The narrative technique of focalisation that J.M Coetzee uses, invites readers to consider Lurie’s actions and perceptions throughout the novel and some critics have found this to be a ‘moral’ fault. It is true that it is difficult to distinguish between Lurie’s and the authorial narrator’s voices in the above passage though this should not be seen as problematic. Nevertheless Carine M. Mardorossian in an article for Research in African Literatures in 2011 believes that this technique is detrimental to the novel. She does not feel that the author’s presence is strong enough, noting:
Disturbingly, at this point in the narrative, the text makes no effort whatsoever to establish an explicit and salutary distance between the authorial narrator and the character’s viewpoint. Readers are made privy to the reasoning that leads Lurie to decide this is not rape and it is impossible to participate in his way of thinking without also taking away from the violence of his act (Mardorossian, 2011: 79).
Certainly, it starts with Lurie’s viewpoint when he finds Melanie’s slippers “silly, tasteless”. The third paragraph too provides his distinctly romantic perception and this creates the impression that it is Lurie’s view of Melanie that is being recorded in the fourth paragraph. It is easy then to consider “Not rape, not quite that, but undesired nevertheless, undesired to the core” as Lurie’s thoughts, his inability to accept his actions as rape. However, the narrator too constantly and ironically enters the scene. It is likely the narrator who inserts the second paragraph and perhaps the first sentence of the third paragraph, “But nothing will stop him”. A clue to this reading is that it is doubtful that Lurie would refer to himself as “the intruder” or admit that his words are “as heavy as clubs”. Also, it is the author/narrator who hints at violence, often contrasting it with gentleness: “thrusts himself”, “Words heavy as clubs thud into the delicate whorl of her ear” and in the last paragraph, “…like a rabbit when the jaws of the fox close on its neck.” If the authorial narrator does comment on these occasions, then it is possible that he has a larger role in narration too. For instance, there is the possibility, admittedly slight, that the penultimate paragraph is from the authorial narrator’s viewpoint; that the narrator steps back from Lurie’s romantic rhapsodies to focus on Melanie’s seemingly passive response. If so, then the final paragraph may be an authorial interjection culminating in the allusion to the fox and the rabbit.
What could be gained by this ambiguity, this mixing of voices? Mardorossian pinpoints the cost of this technique – that violence is veiled and that readers are somehow shielded from Lurie’s actions. She also seems to assume that there should be clear authorial distance, perhaps even judgement. Yet, the ambiguity, the blurring of voices while Lurie is ostensibly the narrator of this scene allows for greater interrogation of the incident by the reader. It is especially effective when combined with the distinctly ironic undercutting of Lurie’s perceptions. Readers may interrogate not just Melanie’s role, as Mardorossian (2011: 79) feels occurs, but the whole incident and Lurie’s place in it. They can, and many have, question whether this incident is an act of rape. Indeed, the ambiguity is one reason for the title of this paper. My designation of the term ‘sexual abuse’ opens up the possibility of many interpretations including whether the action was one of ‘rape’ or the lesser crime of ‘sexual abuse’.
To further the discussion and consider the act as an event of rape, I would like to examine the sentence “Events are ideational singularities which communicate in one and the same Event” (Deleuze, 1990: 64) stated above. Deleuze’s definition of the singularity makes for potentially fruitful analysis, particularly with regard to sexual abuse as a disruptive event. Singularities are “turning points and points of inflection; bottlenecks, knots, foyers, and centers; points of fusion, condensation, and boiling; points of tears and joy, sickness and health, hope and anxiety, ‘sensitive’ points” (Deleuze 1990: 63). These are hinted at in the reportage of the sexual encounter – there are knots and points and anxiety on both characters parts. However, the notion of ‘singularity’ is complicated when Deleuze makes it clear that it is ‘neutral’; it belongs to “another dimension than that of denotation, manifestation, or signification. It is essentially pre-individual, non-personal, and a-conceptual” (Deleuze, 1990: 63). So, ideal events are made up of tensions that pre-exist the actual physical, spatio-temporal dimension.
In the extract from Disgrace above, with the state of affairs depicted as it is through Lurie’s and the authorial narrator’s eyes, readers can question physical actions and manifestations based on their pre-knowledge, their pre-understanding of the tensions in the ideal event of rape. ‘Ideal’ here does not imply a positive force or response, merely an open understanding of what constitutes the particular event. For instance, Mardorossian believes that the onus of responsibility is placed on Melanie through Coetzee’s writing technique:
The narration encourages [readers] to ask not “what was he thinking?” but why doesshe not resist, or why did she say “no, not now,” rather than “no, never”. This passage, then, forces readers to engage in debate about whether this is legally and actually a rape based on her behaviour (Mardorossian, 2011: 79).
This interpretation relies on the belief that a potential victim must resist, struggle, must say ‘No’ firmly and unequivocally. Not every reader has this understanding of what rape is, however. Some readers may question instead the description, “Little shivers of cold run through (Melanie)” (Coetzee, 1999: 25). Maybe the shivers are from fear? This may be the trigger that leads them to question Lurie’s place in the event. Ideational singularities communicate with each other in the event and the event has an eternal truth, according to Deleuze (1990: 64). Readers interrogate Melanie, Lurie, the spatio-temporal event based on their understanding of the ideal event. What truth they arrive at may not be an eternal one.
In What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari elaborate on the notion of the Event in the virtual sphere. They define the Event as:
…the part that eludes its own actualization in everything that happens. The event is not the state of affairs. It is actualised in a state of affairs, in a body, in a lived, but it has a shadowy and secret part that is continually subtracted from or added to its actualization: in contrast with the state of affairs, it neither begins nor ends but has gained or kept the infinite movement to which it gives consistency. (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 156)
The Event is fluid. When Deleuze says that there is “one and the same Event” (Deleuze, 1990: 64), that does not imply that the one Event of Rape, for example, is fixed, unchanging. Rather, it can never be fully defined or complete because there is always movement, always something missing or to be added. Ideational singularities from each and every event of rape communicate with each other and they provide an eternal truth. Although the event is distinct from its spatio-temporal actualisation, we can consider the many “shadowy and secret” parts in the incident inDisgrace. There are shadowy and secret parts in the telling – when does authorial narrator speak, when does Lurie? There are shadows and secrets in what Lurie sees – Melanie shivering from cold that may be fear; in what he does not see – that he is an intruder, a fox. The importance of these shadowy and secret bits lies in the potential of the act to be more or less than what it is. It is this that allows readers to question “the truth” of the incident.
Shadows and secrets continue, as does the irony. The second rape of the novel is that of Lurie’s daughter, Lucy by three men of colour. This rape is the main event of the novel but readers are not given the details. Once again the action is focalised through Lurie and he is undergoing his own attack, not present at the actual rape. Irony pointedly resurfaces when Lurie huffily thinks, “Do they think he does not know what rape is?” (Coetzee 1999: 140). This thought persists during his conversation with Bev Shaw after the second event. Coetzee relies on readers to fill in their understanding of the event of rape and perhaps his technique of focalisation and authorial irony gives them the opportunity to question this understanding.
In a novel that follows Lurie’s growth, his gradual, grudging acceptance of the world changing around him, insight into his flaws, his reasoning, is essential. This insight may sometimes be provided through a consideration of the character as haecceity on the plane of consistency. In A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari define us as haecceities: “you will yield nothing to haecceities unless you realize that that is what you are… You are longitude and latitude, a set of speeds and slownesses between unformed particles, a set of nonsubjectified affects” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 289). They also caution against “an oversimplified conciliation, as though there were on the one hand formed subjects, of the thing or person type, and on the other hand spatiotemporal coordinates of the haecceity type”(ibid). A haecceity does not consist “simply of a décor or backdrop that situates subjects, or of appendages that hold things and people to the ground” (ibid). Haecceities are assemblages:
It is the entire assemblage in its individuated aggregate that is a haecceity. It is this assemblage that is defined by a longitude and a latitude, by speeds and affects, independently of forms and subjects, which belong to a different plane. It is the wolf itself, and the horse and the child, that cease to be subjects to become events, in assemblages that are inseparable from an hour, a season, an atmosphere, an air, a life (ibid).
It should be noted that for Deleuze and Guattari, haecceities exist on the plane of consistency rather than the plane of organisation, dwelling place of forms and subjects, yet movement between these planes is encouraged, especially as we are haecceities. Intriguingly too, in Dialogues II, his conversation with Clare Parnet, Deleuze equates haecceity with event – “Haeccity = event” (Deleuze and Parnet, 1987: 69). We can consider the characters, Mala, Chandin, even David Lurie with his blinkered vision, as haecceities on the plane of consistency. In rape, bodies are involved, bodies that are inseparable from other physical, emotional and mental bodies. Could this assemblage of bodies become or even equal the event of rape?
Deleuze and Guattari elaborate on the wasp becoming orchid and the orchid becoming wasp during the act of pollination in A Thousand Plateaus (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 11). In meeting even for an instant, each one ‘becomes’ the other while remaining separate. The wasp flies off and may never come across the same orchid again. They expound on Remy Chauvin’s term “aparallel evolution” in relation to becoming. Both heterogeneous elements do evolve separately but for the time they are together, they leave a trace or map of their being on the other. Most pertinently, however, becoming “produces nothing other than itself” and “lacks a subject distinct from itself” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 262 – 263). We can see becoming in action when we consider Lurie and Melanie. They both evolve separately – and becoming is not an evolution – even though there is a momentary Lurie becoming-Melanie and a Melanie becoming- Lurie. Harder to pinpoint is the notion that becoming “produces nothing other than itself”. Is there a becoming-rape then?
Examining two extracts from Cereus Blooms at Night may provide some insight. These are a definite contrast to the disputed rape of Melanie, and an illustration of brutal, confrontational writing in a novel that is largely exquisitely written. Here Mala Ramchandin lives with her alcoholic and sexually abusive father, Chandin. When Chandin realises she has been seeing a young man, this is his response after she apologises and begs forgiveness and mercy:
I ever hurt you? I never before hurt you. You want to know what hurt is? Eh? Forgiveness? Mercy? I’ll show you what hurt is. He pushed her to the sink and shoved her face down into the basin, pressing his chin into her back as he used both hands to pull up her dress. He yanked out his penis, hardened weapon-like by anger. He used his knees to pry her legs open and his feet to kick and keep them apart. With his large fat fingers he parted her buttocks as she sobbed and whispered, “Have mercy, Lord, I beg, I beg.” He rammed himself in and out of her. He reached around and squeezed her breasts, frantically pumping them to mimic the violent thrusting of his penis (Mootoo, 1996: 221 – 222).
Some observations here:
Body parts – face, chin, hands, penis, knees, legs, feet, fingers, buttocks, breasts and again penis – are foregrounded and his and hers are thrust together. No part of the body is too taboo to mention. Explicitly, significantly, perhaps predictably, the penis is associated with a weapon. If we are to analyse the body as site for both violence and submission then here is an example where both interact: her face submits; his chin is violent, her back submissive; his knees, his feet violent, her legs submissive; his fingers violent, her buttocks submissive; her breasts submit. Only his weapon-like penis does not correlate to a specific body part that it causes to submit; instead it is him, his anger, his violence that can thrust itself into her and destroy her. Her breasts, symbol of her womanhood, are squeezed and pumped (by his hands) into submission in an action that mimics the violence of his penis.
It is difficult, perhaps even irrelevant, to focus on the notions of the event or of becoming when the force and pain of the act is so immediate. The writing is so tight here that it is hard to imagine any shadowy or secret bit, any other outcome or potential for actualisation. There is more:
Then he pulled out of her and flung her around. Standing with his pants around his knees, his still erect penis pointing at her, Chandin slapped her back and forth with the palm and the back of his hand. Her lower lip split and the outer edge of her left eye tore. She tried to stop crying but her chest heaved. He slapped her so hard that she stumbled and fell onto the ground. He lowered his huge frame astride her, pulled her up by her hair and shoved his penis into her mouth. She choked and gagged as he rammed it down her throat. When she went limp, he took the weapon out of her mouth and spurted all over her face (Mootoo,1996: 222).
Is this an act or event of becoming? Definitely. The penis is instrumental in subjugation and humiliation – by the end of the scene, it is addressed as, and understood to be, a weapon. This scene is one of Chandin becoming-rape, even penis becoming-rape. It is also possible to tease out Mala becoming-rape if we consider bodily submission or subsequent survival as an outcome of rape. Chandin and Mala can be considered haecceities here. They are their body parts; they are speed and force, latitude and longitude. This description does not focus on peripheral details of setting but whatever is mentioned is included in the action. Thus, the sink, the ground, also haecceities, are incorporated as sites for Mala bashing and are inseparable from the assemblages that are Mala and Chandin.
From considering Chandin and Mala as haecceities and becomings, can we then make the leap to consider them events? As haecceities, can we “cease to be subjects” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 289) and equal events? The above incident illustrates a variety of becomings. The characters here are forces, “simply degrees of power which combine, to which correspond a power to affect and be affected… intensities” (Deleuze and Parnet, 1987: 68). Yet, they remain individuals and are separable. If we stop seeing them as characters, do we see them as rape? Not rape as a state of affairs but as an event, one with no beginning or end but with an infinite movement? And if we don’t see them as rape, do we see them as any other event?
An observation relating to the notion of time and the movement of the event adds to the discussion. In the above extract, while Chandin’s penis is highlighted and equated with violence, Mala’s breasts, called ‘breasts’ prior, are now referred to as her ‘chest’, a more general term, and perhaps, in this context, indicative of the erasure of her identity as a woman. Adding to this erasure is the fragmentation of her body parts – the split lip, the tearing of her left eye. This sense of disintegration and fragmentation, the fact that she chokes and gags with the penis thrust down her throat reflects her subsequent years of silence towards humans, the years she spends in her garden disintegrating and then reintegrating, aligning herself with nature, with insects, not humans. Language, as we know it, is choked out of her. In the novel though, Mala’s years of solitude are presented before the act of rape. Shani Mootoo, the author, works well with the event. She does not tell her story chronologically, preferring the “floating times, the floating lines of Aion as distinct from Chronos” (Deleuze and Parnet, 1987: 68). She positions the discovery of mad woman Mala at the start of the novel, introduces life in Paradise, Lantanacamara, gives Chandin’s back story, describes Mala’s routine in the garden and only inserts this brutal act of rape about three-quarters of the way through. With this structure, Mootoo, knowingly or not, harnesses the power of the event, working with Deleuze and Guattari’s concept – “… in contrast with the state of affairs, it neither begins nor ends but has gained or kept the infinite movement to which it gives consistency” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994: 156). Chandin’s brutal act of rape is over but the event is not. And readers are positioned to feel this momentum, the movement of the rupturing event of becoming before they are privy to the act.
Mala is a superb example of a character, a haecceity, constantly becoming. She is often presented, rocking in her rocking chair in the garden, within the smells and sounds of nature. Here she is on the night, the annual event, when the cereus of the novel’s title blooms:
Close to midnight the buds had opened fully. They intensified their scent, steadily pumping it into the air, an urgent call to insects and bats to find and pollinate the flowers. One by one the moths came. They slid from cracks in the walls of Mala’s house. They bored through and wriggled out from every moth-ridden enclave in the neighbourhood. They unbound themselves from sticky webs nestled in dents of rocks and from cocoons that dangled from leaves. They migrated in swarms from the lime tree in her yard to the wall of expectant cereus. The arrival of thousands of moths, already drunk from the smell alone, held Mala spellbound. The sound of a thousand pairs of flapping wings drowned out the screaming crickets and created a draft. Mala rubbed her arms for warmth. Crazed bats swooped by, crisscrossing each other’s flight en route to suckle the blossoms. They disturbed the swarms of frantic moths. They brushed their hairy bodies against the blossoms to sample the syrupy, perfumed juices. Then, thirst and curiosity satisfied, they darted off. By two o’clock in the morning, every moth was thirstily lapping sweet nectar, bruising and yellowing its body against the large stamens that waved from the flowers. The smell in Mala’s yard drenched the air and flowed across town. Neighbours in deep sleep stirred, suddenly restless. Some were pried wide awake but were soon pleasantly besotted by the perfume and swept back into deep sleep.
The moon lifted higher. Mala herself felt intoxicated and finally, deliriously tired. She must have dozed off because suddenly there was only a handful of moths lilting heavily and precariously in flight. She hadn’t noticed the swarm leaving. She slumped in her chair. The scent was indeed more pleasant than the stink that usually rose from behind the wall (Mootoo, 1996: 138).
Reading this beautifully lyrical scene is like watching a David Attenborough documentary. The language provides a visual, auditory illustration of the haecceity – “It is the entire assemblage in its individuated aggregate that is a haecceity” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 289). Mala is inseparable from her surrounds. More than that, however, this scene illustrates the potential of haecceities to become events: they “cease to be subjects to become events, in assemblages that are inseparable from an hour, a season, an atmosphere, an air, a life” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 289).
The possibility of Mala as haecceity, as event, is a comforting one. Mootoo depicts the regrowth possible through the event of rape before the event is even described in the novel on pages 221 to 222. Mala is never the same but neither is she fragmented; she is constantly involved in events of becoming – she moves from the rhizome of the human to one that involves nature, the earth and then slowly moves back into the rhizome of the human while maintaining links with nature. What is gained by considering characters as haecceities or events? This essay only starts to ask this question. Perhaps it provides a sense of control. In an event as brutal as rape, where bodies collide, although they may not be depicted as doing so, the possibility of reclaiming the power of the body through immersion in an assemblage, is hopeful. The thought of Mala as haecceity, Mala as event generating more and other events is what I leave you with.
This paper is one of two based on Disgrace and Cereus Blooms at Night. I continue my analysis primarily of Mala and the cereus bloom in ‘The Case for Hope – Sexual Abuse in Disgrace andCereus Blooms at Night‘. This will be published in an e-book based on the 5th Global Conference on Hope: Probing the Boundaries organised by Inter-Disciplinary.net. The work on both papers arises out of the PhD thesis I am currently working on, ‘Desire and Hope in Contemporary Fictional Narratives of Sexual Abuse’. This thesis focusses on desire as a flow constructed on the plane of consistency. It maps this flow, and that of hope, in seven novels involving sexual abuse. The character as haecceity is of particular interest as a site allowing consideration of territorialisation, deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation. Affects, percepts and becomings too are highlighted in examining, reacting and relating to the event of sexual abuse.
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