This essay examines the concept of the inhuman as it develops across a set of Victorian novels (Villette, Little Dorrit, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). The poststructuralist and postmodern idea of the inhuman, I argue, develops out of two primal scenes: the self confronted with its own uncanny mirror image and the self confronted with a mechanically iterable verbal signifier. Thus the essay begins with the premise that the inhuman is constituted through a subjection to - as Jacques Lacan might say - the itinerary of the signifier. But since this is a fate that could befall any character or any text of any period (in other words, more a possibility recognized within a certain theoretical perspective than an historically specific condition), the essay proceeds to ask: what is it that links specifically late-Victorian notions of the inhuman with the iterable character of language? My argument is that the novels of this period chart a shift in the relationship between the two primal scenes outlined above, in which one eventually becomes the face of humanity while the other becomes the dead hand of inhumanity. In the end it is less the uncanny and easily allegorizable doubling of Jekyll and Hyde than the numbing insistence of a modest signifier (the word something) that measures this novella's - and the Victorian novel's - resistance to the human.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Literature and Literary Theory