ORDER TO UNDERSTAND
the ways that plotting and narrative are intimately tied to our sense
of the human life-world, Brooks turns to Sigmund Freud's Beyond
the Pleasure Principle, specifically Freud's articulation of man's
struggle between the death drive and the pleasure/reality
principle. (See, in particular, the Freud
Module on Transference and Trauma for a primer on Freud's theories.)
Brooks aligns our desire to keep reading with Freud's understanding
of desire: "Desire as Eros, desire in its plastic and totalizing
function, appears to me central to our experience of reading narrative,
and if in what follows I evoke Freud—and, as a gloss on Freud,
Jacques Lacan—it is because I find in Freud's work the best model
for a 'textual erotics'" (37).
Brooks argues that we are driven to read because of our drive to find
meaningful, bounded, totalizing order to the chaos of life; however,
that drive for order is most fulfilling after the detours or dilations
that we associate with plot. If the order of closure comes too soon,
it can feel like a short-circuit, as if we were cheated somehow.
Brooks makes sense of these apparently competing
desires (for dilation and for closure) by aligning our pleasure in reading
with the psychodynamics articulated by Freud. We read because of the
mechanisms of sexual desire but that desire is ultimately "subtended
by the death instinct, the drive of living matter to return to the quiescence
of the inorganic, a state prior to life" (51).
The heroes of a narratives could be called "'desiring machines'
whose presence in the text creates and sustains narrative movement through
the forward march of desire, projecting the self onto the world through
scenarios of desire imagined and then acted upon" (40-41);
however, the ultimate goal, according to Brooks and Freud, is to fulfill
desire, to reach the quiescence of closure. It is this play of forward
momentum and ultimate closure, aligned respectively with Eros (the pleasure
principle) and Thanatos (the death drive), that structures the "erotics"
of narrative. As Brooks puts it, "the paradox of the self becomes
explicitly the paradox of narrative plot as the reader consumes it:
diminishing as it realizes itself, leading to an end that is the consummation
(as well as the consumption) of its sense-making" (52).
Narrative desire is, therefore, ultimately, "desire for
the end" (52),
although any narrative also requires the dilations and transformations
of the middle to make such an end desirable. As Brooks puts it, referring
to the metaphor/metonymy dynamic I described in the first module, "If
at the end of a narrative we can suspend time in a moment when past
and present hold together in a metaphor—which may be that recognition
or anagnorisis which, said Aristotle, every good plot should bring—that
moment does not abolish the movement, the slidings, the mistakes, and
partial recognitions of the middle" (92).
In such an understanding of plot, all actions
tend to be geared towards an anticipated closure (which Brooks aligns
with the quiescence of death), when all loose ends will be tied: "The
sense of a beginning, then, must in some important way be determined
by the sense of an ending. We might say that we are able to read present
moments—in literature and, by extension, in life—as endowed
with narrative meaning only because we read them in anticipation of
the structuring power of those endings that will retrospectively give
them the order and significance of plot" (94).
For this reason, Brooks aligns the structural function of narrative
closure with the death drive: "All narrative may be in essence
obituary in that... the retrospective knowledge that it seeks, the knowledge
that comes after, stands on the far side of the end, in human terms
on the far side of death" (95).
The same fascination with the ordering power
of closure structures our own lives, according to both Brooks and Freud.
We are compelled to repeat those events in our lives that we find traumatic,
for example, until we are able finally to give them a sense of proper
"boundedness" or mastery, as in the child's fort-da game that
Freud analyzes in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (see the Freud
Module on Trauma and Transference). As Brooks puts it, "If
repetition is mastery, movement from the passive to the active, and
if mastery is an assertion of control over what man must in fact submit
to—choice, we might say, of an imposed end—we have already
a suggestive comment on the grammar of plot, where repetition, taking
us back again over the same ground, could have to do with the choice
of ends" (98).
As in Freud's understanding of the repetition
compulsion, then, the repetitions (often metaphorical) of narrative
could be said to perform the work of what Freud terms "binding"—or,
as Brooks puts it, "a binding of textual energies that allows them
to be mastered by putting them into serviceable form, usable 'bundles,'
within the energetic economy of the narrative" (100).
For Freud such a drive to repeat is intimately tied to the death drive,
which he sees as even more primary than the sexual instinct. What Brooks
adds to Freud's theories is to argue that the "binding" of
such repetitions is analogous to narrative discourse's
structuring of story
(particularly the ordering of temporal progress into a satisfying whole,
which is particularly reliant on a proper closure). Repetition compulsion
and the death drive are, therefore, according to Brooks, crucial to
any narrative; however, the deviances of narrative are crucial to create
the sense of achieving a proper end and proper boundedness; otherwise,
one has a sense of traumatic short-circuit: "The desire of the
text (the desire of reading) is hence desire for the end, but desire
for the end reached only through the at least minimally complicated
detour, the intentional deviance, in tension, which is the plot of narrative"