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 Essay, Page Three

The Unconscious and the Text

Dickens’ rewriting of the end of Great Expectations shows us the degree in which the unconscious is constructed as text, and how the ego is submersed within text. Dickens’ original wish was not to see Estella and Pip together (Dickens 495), contrary to Freud’s prescription of the story-as-fulfilling-fantasy. For Freud, this would amount to the Id “winning out” over the Ego. Pip makes an interesting observation that “…as Drummle leaned down from the saddle…[he] reminded me of Orlick” (373). If we consider that Drummle marries Estella, then the original ending signifies the loss of Ego in terms of character (Pip as a character is defeated by Drummle) and the end of the text itself. The text ends, in this case, when the Id wins, for the Id cannot express anything without something to manifest itself within: the Ego. Not only does this upset Freud’s centric and coherentist view of the text, but it also presents us a strange claim: that the Ego manifests itself in text as the Hero, while the text itself is a manifestation of the unconscious; yet the Ego also comprises the text itself. The Ego, as a centre to this system, can be seen to become displaced as “the center is, paradoxically, within the structure and outside it” (Derrida 517). This de-centering of the Ego into the text allows us to see Lacan’s concept of the Phallus as the textual unconscious.

The unsettling implications wrought by Freud’s theory-- that the Id could conceivably triumph over the Ego-- are only unsettling if we accept the Ego as the centre to this system of text. By de-centering the Ego, we move from a text that supposedly reveals meaning about the Ego/Unconscious, to a text where the ego becomes another function of meaning derived from the textual play of signifiers. For Lacan, “To install the ego at the centre of the perspective, as is done in the [Freudian] approach in analysis, is only one of those reversals to which any questioning of the position of man is exposed” (208). This exposition leads us to the Lacanian Phallus, the unconscious as the “pure” signifier (Gallop 139). For Lacan, meaning is constructed to cover the Lack of meaning. This point of construction, a pure signifier, acts as the textualised unconscious. Gallop notes, however, that Lacan “says that the id must not be thought of as a second ego, that the two agencies must not be thought of as two egos, or two subjects, inhabiting the same psyche” (156) [7]. We should take a clue from this, and perhaps disregard then, the immediate thought to transfer Orlick to the position of Phallus. By rethinking the concept of the unconscious in terms of the text, we can now see the textualisation occurring through the writing of the ending of Great Expectations.

The Phallus becomes, at this meta-textual level of analysation, not Orlick himself as a character but the very “act of writing” of the ending of the text-- the choosing of different paths of signification which changes the “meaning” of the end of the text, and indeed the entire novel. Angus Calder argues that “the rewritten ending muffles the moral lesson which Dickens wished to draw most forcibly from the tale” (Dickens 495). Our desire for cohesive meaning from this text becomes decidedly important upon the ending of this text. The “ending” of this text becomes the Phallus: the point where we attribute meaning to cover up the Lack of meaning, for the ending itself is only a signifier (indeed, a pure signifier) of/to the total construction of meaning within the text through the play of signification.


All material Copyleft t.c. van Veen, 2000