ASECS 2009

Lacan, Locus, and Liminality: Language as Space and Onomastic Resistance in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe

Edward Kozaczka
Binghamton University - SUNY

By interrogating the complicated relationships among sexuality, language, naming, and space, this paper offers a new interpretation of Defoe’s novel by using Lacan’s psychosexual model of development and Mike Crang and Nigel Thrift’s Thinking Space as theoretical lenses to try to offer another answer to the question, why is Crusoe unable to name things? I argue that this onomastic problem develops because Crusoe goes through a metaphorical re-birth, or as Victor Turner would have it, a stage of processual liminality, and enters into what Lacan calls the symbolic realm through a feminine model instead of through Lacan’s transcendental signifier, the phallus. As a result, Crusoe is caught in between the imaginary and the symbolic, an ambivalent, liminal position that is, borrowing a phrase from Tip Shanklin, “both a place and a not-place, contiguous to two times, now and then... located between what is and what could be; between what is here and what is there; between a now and a then.” In order to resolve his dilemma, and in order to navigate between the imaginary and the symbolic more effectively, Crusoe uses his limited language as a space to move away from the imaginary into the symbolic. More specifically, he uses the language of governing as this space because it is more closely aligned with eighteenth-century masculinity, and therefore, more closely associated with Lacan’s masculine, “transcendental signifier,” the phallus. In order to do this, Crusoe must use naming to first de-sex Friday and the feminine island that he is stranded on (the only two things he feels the need to name in the novel), a typical move for English colonizers who feared cannibals and read different landscapes as erotic, feminine, impious spaces that needed to be tamed. Throughout the essay, I will use the theme of liminality as a bridge to connect Defoe’s novel, Lacan, and J.M. Coetzee’s Foe, the latter author being one well-acquainted with both Robinson Crusoe and Lacan’s psychosexual model, thereby linking together the modern and the postmodern.


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