The recent turn in George Eliot scholarship toward historicism - and in particular toward intellectual and political history - has tended to occlude the epistemological metaphors in the author's work: those persistent figures that conjoin George Eliot's ethics to her aesthetics but that, according to an earlier generation of critics, also point to the essentially unstable nature of knowledge, whether ethical or aesthetic. This essay examines the figurative schematics and the epistemology by which George Eliot's politics are elaborated in her writing, focusing in particular on the figure of transparency and the thematics of political vocation, and culminating in the figure of the spectral Jew. Every end or purpose, like every origin, in George Eliot's novels is calibrated in relation to the twin horizons of absolute sameness and absolute difference. The tension between these two limits constitutes not only an epistemological, but also a cultural and political, dilemma: one that George Eliot broods constantly upon, most particularly in her ceaseless interrogation of what it would mean for a person to "merge" with his or her political or cultural destiny. This essay argues that George Eliot's uneasy reliance on the concept of transparency - of goals, of motives, of minds - bespeaks her yearning not only for self-evidence in the realm of meanings, but also for a sense of belonging in the realm of culture: a sense of belonging that is inextricable from a certain experience, and thus figuration, of language.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Literature and Literary Theory