Ghost words and invisible giants : H.D. and Djuna Barnes under signs of the imperative




Dustin, Lheisa

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



My dissertation examines the correlations between the natural and supernatural, agency and authority, and meaning and language in the work of the modernist American writers H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) and Djuna Barnes. Using the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan, Melanie Klein, and Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok, I argue that the different kinds of spectral and otherworldly figures that appear in these works – ghosts, the living dead, divinities, individuals who are also amorphous multiplicities – correlate to the modes of negation of parental imperatives that structure the language-use of their authors. I contrast H.D.‘s and Barnes‘s visions of the relation of language to meaning and the personal to the social using Lacan‘s delineation of the different modes of psychic negation that enable or disable language use: repression, disavowal, and foreclosure. According to this model, H.D.‘s work evidences foreclosure: a mode of thought and language that fails to differentiate words, thoughts, and people from one another. This incapacity endangers the psyche with the hallucinatory return of or haunting by what cannot be symbolized. In contrast, Barnes‘s work suggests disavowal, and her language renders experience in distorted forms. She repudiates power figures and the unspeakable meanings associated with them, but her work portrays the spectral, surreptitious return of these figures and meanings. Writing that witnesses or stages a return to a state of non-difference between symbol and symbolized, as Barnes‘s and H.D.‘s work does, calls for different interpretative and methodological strategies than those usual in literary criticism. To read such work primarily as symbolic communication is to lose perspective on the structures of thought and language that it grapples with. A perspective that is rigorous and radically different from the works‘ own is necessary to produce readings of it that make symbolic ―sense,‖ though it is unable to fully account for experiences that are not conceivable. To this end, I describe ―disorders,‖ types of thought and language that psychoanalysis implicates in interminable human suffering, without drawing conclusions about the range of experiences that might be concurrent with asymbolic or anti-symbolic thought and writing.



natural, supernatural, modernist American writers, psychoanalytic theory, spectres, otherworldly figures, language use, H,D, (Hilda Doolittle), Djuna Barnes