Lovers’ Flight: The Gothic Line in ‘Wuthering Heights’

All round the horizon there is this same line of sinuous wave-like hills; the scoops into which they fall only revealing other hills beyond, of similar colour and shape, crowned with wild, bleak moors — grand, from the ideas of solitude and loneliness which they suggest, or oppressive from the feeling which they give of being pent-up by some monotonous and illimitable barrier, according to the mood of mind in which the spectator may be. [1]

The peak moment of my late teen tradgoth sensibilities was, without a doubt, smoking a roll-up with a friend in the graveyard of St Michael and All Angels’ Church in Haworth, having ditched our party whilst on a school trip.

We had come to visit the parsonage, next door, once home to the Brontë family.

I remember, despite trying to act all moody and aloof, how cool I thought it was, in the way it did not seem to sit comfortably in time and space. This is something all tourist attractions have in common, perhaps, but there was more to it than this. The rooms of the otherwise sizeable parsonage felt claustrophobic and small; the village graveyard unnervingly overcrowded whilst the moors stretched out, empty, all around us.

The name of the village itself is said to mean “hedged enclosure“.

In my English class, we had been studying the Gothic novel, reading Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, opting for a trip to Haworth over that more famous North Yorkshire parish: Whitby was perhaps too overcoded by its own vampiric tourist industry for our purposes — it is difficult to penetrate the noise. Haworth itself, of course, also has a tourist industry, but we saw little of this. We were bussed directly to the parsonage and back out again, entering an enclosure within an enclosure.

Standing in the graveyard, the fact that Wuthering Heights (along with the rest of the Brontë sisters’ output) had come out of this place was not a surprise to me in that moment. There were ghosts — material and immaterial, and others somewhere in between — every which way you looked.

In her preface to the novel, Charlotte Brontë, pseudonymously editing the text for a second edition following Emily’s untimely death, apologises to the non-Yorkshireman for what they are about to read. Some critics argue that, through her edits, Charlotte hoped to make the horrors imagined by her wyrd sister more palatable to the Brontë family’s audience: England’s well-to-do and well-read city-folk. Whatever her intentions, Charlotte rightly forewarns those from more mannered climes that “in the West-Riding of Yorkshire are things alien and unfamiliar”. [2]

The story of Wuthering Heights, for those who don’t know, revolves around the tumultuous relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine. It is likewise the story of their houses, the titular Wuthering Heights and the mouthful Thrushcross Grange.

The pair’s relationship is inseparable from the landscape that surrounds them, and it is a relationship that repeatedly disturbs, even today, making Emily Brontë’s Yorkshire much like Mark E Smith’s North: in its people and places, it represents the Outside of urbane good taste.

Told through a variety of narrators, we hear about the unfortunate lives of the two “lovers” — it seems this is what they are but barely by any recognisable measure. Brought together as children, when Catherine’s father adopted Heathcliff, “a dark-skinned gypsy”, “a little lascar” [3], following a trip to Liverpool, the two become inseparable. Their childhoods are spent adventuring across the moors, laying the foundations for the pair’s eternal orbiting of one another.

As adulthood looms, Catherine is torn between the freedom and passion of her relationship with Heathcliff, an outsider in every way, and a proposal of marriage from the right and proper Edgar Linton, a local member of the landed gentry no less, who promises Catherine a life as “lady of the manor”. Ultimately, she accepts his proposal.

In succumbing to social expectations and a desire to climb the embedded class hierarchies of the British State, Catherine’s relationship with Heathcliff is thrown into unending turmoil.

It nevertheless endures, despite itself, through intensities of jealousy, revenge and death.

In his essay on Bartleby, the Scrivener, a short story by Herman Melville, Gilles Deleuze highlights the intensity of the couple’s relationship specifically, quoting Catherine:

Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same… My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath — a source of little visible delight, but necessary… I am Heathcliff — he’s always in my mind — not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself — but as my own being… [4]

For Deleuze, the transgressive relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine is a most notable becoming. It signifies a “burning passion deeper than love, since it no longer has either substance or qualities, but traces a zone of indiscernibility in which it passes through all intensities in every direction…” [5]

The main focus of Deleuze’s essay is Bartleby, a Wall Street clerk who drives those around him (quite literally) mad through the incessant repetition of the phrase: “I would prefer not to.” The phrase, for Deleuze, is a kind of agrammatical “formula” that repeatedly ruptures the quotidian through its “pure patient passivity”. Bartleby “would prefer nothing rather than something: not a will to nothingness, but the growth of a nothingness of the will.” [6] His is a being “as being, and nothing more.” [7]

Whereas Bartleby, in Melville’s novella, is a solitary individual, refusing requests to “copy” — copy documents in his role as clerk but also to copy to mannerisms and standards and comportment of those around him — Catherine and Heathcliff are, in themselves, already a copy, a double, struggling to take the act of copying to its absolute conclusion, which, similar to Bartleby, occasions a “logic of negative preference, a negativism beyond all negation”. [8]

Like Bartleby, their particular but also disturbingly natural “madness”, in being madly in love, entangles them in the lives of all those around them. Just like Bartleby’s linguistic formula, Catherine and Heathcliff’s love “excludes all alternatives, and devours what it claims to conserve no less than it distances itself from everything else.” [9] Whereas Bartleby’s formula “creates a vacuum within language”, which then leaks out into the community within which he is embedded, the lovers create a war machine in their tandem orbit, a black hole of affectation that could surely only ever result in the ghost story that we are presented with.

In this way, we can think of Catherine and Heathcliff’s becoming here as a becoming-lovers, modulating the “Community of Lovers” formulated by Georges Bataille, and later extended by Maurice Blanchot. Blanchot writes:

The community of lovers — no matter if the lovers want it or not, enjoy it or not, be linked by chance, by “l’amour fou,” by the passion of death (Kleist) — has as its ultimate goal the destruction of society. There where an episodic community takes shape between two beings who are made or who are not made for each other, a war machine is set up or, to say it more clearly, the possibility of a disaster carrying within itself, be it in infinitesimal doses, the menace of universal annihilation. [10]

Here again we run the risk of falling into the traps of a wholly negative “collapse discussed previously. Talk of “the destruction of society” and “universal annihilation” is all too easily dismissed as melodrama.

Whilst Blanchot’s writings are certainly anethical, it would a mistake to reduce him to an “anarchist” or a “nihilist” in any fear-mongering, populist sense of those words. His destruction of society warrants a more careful reading.

What we should remember here, in Blanchot’s invocation of the war machine, is that, as Deleuze and Guattari make clear, the war machine is a form of expression: “War does not necessarily have the battle as its object, and more important, the war machine does not necessarily have war as its object, although war and the battle may be its necessary result (under certain conditions).” [11]

It is in this way that the lovers, at their most expressive, are a war machine themselves — one that is instantiated by their lines of flight from that which is.

We could think, additionally, of Romeo and Juliet, those most famous lovers, thrown together by chance, who come to epitomise the war machine between their noble families. They would sooner kill themselves, however, than allow the war machine to take flight. (Typical bourgeois defeatism.)

Catherine and Heathcliff avoid all such embarrassment and threaten everything Right and Proper around them precisely because, in their childhood coupling, they are not lovers but sister and adopted brother. It is precisely in this sense that Deleuze invokes Wuthering Heights to further demonstrate a theme he sees as inherent to Melville’s writings in particular.

What then is the biggest problem haunting Melville’s oeuvre? … No doubt, it lies in reconciling … the inhuman with the human. … If humanity can be saved … it will only be through the dissolution or decomposition of the paternal function. So it is a great moment when Ahab, invoking Saint Elmo’s fire, discovers that the father is himself a lost son, an orphan, whereas the son is the son of nothing, or of everyone, a brother. As Joyce will say, paternity does not exist, it is an emptiness, a nothing — or rather, a zone of uncertainty haunted by brothers, by the brother and sister. [12]

Theirs is an “us against the world” Hollywood adage taken to its near Sadean eschatological conclusion, but Blanchot’s exposition is not a flirtation with the global apocalypticism of Total War — it is towards the end of something far more localised (in its initial instance). If his eschatological sentiments are to signal the end of any particular mode of telos, they are honed, here, like Deleuze’s, on the Oedipal.

The Oedipal, already, is no longer what it once was, some fifty years on from its invocation in Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus. Who can really refer to anything by that name now with any seriousness? We’ll stick with it here for now, for its familiarity and ease, but it deserves another post in itself. To use it feels like an invocation of something inherently outdated.

In the context of the community of lovers as it exists in Wuthering Heights, it may be better to think of the “rural” as an atemporal and spatial modulation of the anti-Oedipal that has not been so conceptually ravaged by the passing of time.

In his recent post, “Ruin and Freedom“, Ed Berger notes how the fate of the rural in particular relates to collapse but also, via a reading of Proudhon, how this collapse-as-decomposition can occasion new socio-geographic compositions:

The rural – as well as various obsoleted urban zones killed by the thrasher of creative destruction – becomes dotted with what has been described as “sacrifice zones”. […] Extrapolate how these conditions will look in ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years and the creeping ruin looms greater and greater. Collapse is actualized in these places, and does not contradict the fiery circuit of growth elsewhere. Or, to put it even more bluntly, collapse is the cost of unstoppable techno-economic acceleration. To paraphrase an old Trotskyite proverb: the system might be combined, but its development is completely and totally uneven.

He continues:

Out beyond the shimmering borders of the internally-individuating urban zone – and maybe serving a foreshadow of that zone’s own fate under the blade of capital – the sucked-dry bones of yesterday’s world may very well become a space teeming, swarming with strange things, a vast and broken laboratory incubating mutants of its own kind.

The stereotype of rural incest becomes, in this context perhaps, something to embrace — if not literally then at least metaphorically, occasioning a kind of inverse hyperclassism. Inbreeding, sheepshagging, and the like, become methods of mutant incubation against urbane good taste. Perceived vulgarity becomes a weapon against the “taste” of metropolitan elites (who stereotypically engage in this own incestousness but for markedly difference reasons). (Shout out, of course, to Nick Land’s essay, “Kant, Capital and the Prohibition of Incest.”)

However, what I find jarring in Berger’s post is that it seems to describe a certain acceleration of ruinous processes that are unique to America. That’s fine, of course, but I am tempted to twist it here so that it better suits my own perspective.

If Berger’s vision of the rural is visible elsewhere, it is usually attributed to some disastrous event or economic depression in our relatively recent histories. As Charlotte Bronte’s introduction to Wuthering Heights makes clear: rural Yorkshire has long been producing mutants of its own kind. The rural in the North — that is, the rural as non-urban outsideness — is hard-wired here. The county’s ruinous rurality precedes the faltering of modernity. Whilst this is not to deny that Yorkshire as a whole has been along for the ride for capitalism, it’s long-term subjective ruin as formulated by the Gothic is no doubt the prolonged result of failed feudalism rather than our presently failing capitalism. Truly, the War of the Roses never ended.

For Deleuze, the basis of much of this kind of subjectivity is found within language and yet I am repeatedly confused by Deleuze’s essay, in his in-depth analysis of the phrase “I would prefer not to” — and this is perhaps down to the entangled task of translating a French essay about a (presumably French-translated) English text back again into English: the analysis seems to slip between the cracks of these images of thought — because the phrase does not seem that unusual to me. I appreciate the way that the formula functions within Melville’s story, but it is something I think I would say myself without consideration. Deleuze, however, holds the phrase up as an example of “the schizophrenic vocation of American literature: to make the English language, by means of driftings, deviations, de-taxes or sur-taxes (as opposed to standard syntax), slip…” [13]; “issued from a dialect differing from Standard English, and whose rules of creation can be abstracted.” [14]

I would argue that much English literature itself already does this, and whilst the further distancing of American literature is worthy of consideration, there is a reason that “Standard English” is so often referred to as “The Queen’s English”, with class politics and the rural more generally so tied to slippages from linguistic standards already. [15]

Perhaps, through this slippage of standardised language — and by extension, standardised being — that is inherent to rurality, we can talk of a rural subjectivity, itself inherent to the community of lovers.

For Bataille, lovers are, already, in themselves, an enclosed community, radically affirming the outsideness inherent to chance in their very thrown-togetherness. Chance is key here: it is chance which “disrupts the stability of the body and identity structured through a linear ‘life’.” [16] The lovers can, nonetheless, be all too easily tamed by social norms, sliding into that substratum of the State: the Family. Regrettably, this is the detour that Catherine herself takes in Wuthering Heights when she opts to marry Edgar Linton. However, lovers are not, by default, an instantiation of the Family in some sort of embryonic form, although religious moralities suggest that they should be. The vocal obsession of conservative Christianity, for instance, with premarital sex, abortion law and the “institution” of marriage itself certainly suggests that they already know, unconsciously, that unproductive lovers (and actively “destructive” lovers too for that matter) threaten the Family’s (and, by extension, the State’s) apparent grounding.

Transgressions of this sort have long been a feature of Gothic literature, in which the Family is often represented “as a source of danger, even as a model of false consciousness: … not merely as failing its individual members, but as a source of dangerously concealed secrets, even of literal skeletons in the cupboard.” [17] Nonetheless, to move from Lovers to Family to State may seem like an egregious leap, but we should remember that the inverse of this movement is central to Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia, and particularly Anti-Oedipus. The pair, who are, in their own coupling, themselves “already several” [18], explore the ways in which the State produces subjectivities, as opposed to our idealised sense of the social in which subjects actively produce their own social formations. The transcendental lovers, denying the proto-familial structure of religious morality, signpost to the ways that the State, in its function, borders the subject, and how intensive relationships might reach out beyond those borders ineffably.

This is undeniably a part of the critique explored by the term “Anti-Oedipus” in itself. The State and the Family impose totalities on their subjects, capturing the subject’s fragmentary nature that constantly threatens to rupture their boundaries.

Drawing on Blanchot’s The Infinite Conversation, Deleuze and Guattari speak to this, pulling the community of lovers more explicitly into alignment with theories of fragmentary metapolitics, like patchwork, previously discussed (as well as kinds of fragmentary writing — the Nietzschean aphorism, in particular, coming to mind):

Maurice Blanchot has found a way to pose the problem in the most rigorous terms, at the level of the literary machine: how to produce, how to think about fragments whose sole relationship is sheer difference — fragments that are related to one another only in that each of them is different — without having recourse either to any sort of original totality (not even one that has been lost), or to a subsequent totality that may not yet have come about? It is only the category of multiplicity, used as a substantive and going beyond both the One and the many, beyond the predicative relation of the One and the many, that can account for desiring-production: desiring-production is pure multiplicity, that is to say, an affirmation that is irreducible to any sort of unity. [19]

This may be said of all lovers in their wayward passions but Heathcliff and Catherine are perhaps that most anti-oedipal of lovers in all of classic literature: the multiplicity of their desire runs amok, explicitly childlike in its intensity; an intensity unlimited by the “couple” and instead implicating a multiplicity of “doubles”, infecting various narrators and spreading out in its contagion across the moors that lie between them.

Catherine herself is always already doubled from the start of the novel, when Lockwood, Heathcliff’s lodger, discovers the various Catherine’s inscribed in her former bedroom: “a name repeated in all kinds of characters, large and small — Catherine Earnshaw; here and there varied to Catherine Heathcliff, and then again to Catherine Linton.” [20]

This doubledness — or, rather, Catherine’s refusal to acknowledge it — is ultimately her downfall. Eve Sedgwick, in her fantastic essay on doubleness in Wuthering Heights, “Immediacy, Doubleness and the Unspeakable”, highlights a further instance that reads like a proto-Lovecraftian encounter, harking back to ‘State Decay‘ and the foundational Kantian horror given to patchwork-as-eerie-politic in that post.

She writes:

Catherine’s face has, vis-a-vis her “self,” a peculiar doubleness: it both expresses her directly, being a part of her body, and is a sign for her, “stamps” her. It is just the kind of doubleness she cannot tolerate. A significant form that her madness (“alienation of intellect”) takes is her failure to recognize her own face in the mirror, and her terror at it. Freud mentions glimpsing oneself unrecognizingly in the mirror as a classic instance of the uncanny in real life, but that sensation depends on the subsequent reintegration into oneself of the “self” of the mirror: one has to acknowledge it. It is this that Catherine refuses, I think; it is somehow more tolerable for her to believe that the room is haunted than that her own face could be double. Her terror, that is to say, is not really at the room’s supposed ghostly occupant, but at the possibility that “herself’ could appear (be represented) in the mirror: her terror does not disappear at once when she is forced to acknowledge that it is an image of herself, and her acknowledgement of that is very unstable. [21]

I once again find myself in orbit of Ed Berger’s recent productivity — I feel like we are joyfully in tune with each other: he is articulating my own thoughts in ways I wouldn’t with references I am unfamiliar with and this whole blogging experience is all the richer for it (I am struggling to keep up). Rather than continue this tangent of doubleness here, I can only recommend reading his own follow-up to my previous post before we continue any further. The whole post is worth reading in full but to focus on just a fraction: Ed writes an answer to that question that I too have written and rewritten here a dozen times before, predicting bemusement.

What does any of this have to do with patchwork?“, inquires the inner hypothetical reader.

First, Berger highlights Mark Fisher’s invocation of the double in his PhD thesis, Flatline Constructs: the modern, Western double which “is inextricably connected with alienation; it is the double as lost part of the self, ‘a fantastic ectoplasm, an archaic resurgence issuing from guilt and the depths of the unconscious.'” [22]

Berger adds:

These reflections, addressing psychoanalytic consolidation of the unitary self and matters of spirit and soul, might seem to be at an immense distance from the conversations concerning patchwork – which is, ostensibly, a theory of metapolitics, belonging to a different set of scales. But is Fisher not right in saying that, as fantastical as it seems, this line of inquiry plunges us into the depths of capitalist realism’s functions? In the destruction of the primitive double, the wild chains of proliferating difference are cut off; one no longer enters into transit and trade with figures on the outside, but turns inwards to operate under the sway of predetermined sets of options that are each flush with a particular unifying logic. The double begins in multiplicity and ends unified and coded.

This “particular unifying logic”, which we will come to shortly, can be given various names, be it The State or The Family. Berger likewise writes, in another recent post, how, for so many on the Left,

everything begins and ends with the human. Exteriority is shunted away, and even if something like it is posed (such as in the common appeals to flowery poetic chaos) it still remains locked into the interior realm of human experience.

But, he continues here, what if they were able to recognise that there is “an anarchy that is fundamental and unconditional because it serves as the unground for the great struggles of power.”

This blog’s constant Fisherian mantra once again warrants repeating: “the inside is a folding of the outside.”

To return to the childlike, warring intensities of the Catherine-Heathcliff relationship, Bataille writes on Wuthering Heights in Literature & Evil:

The two children [Heathcliff and Catherine] spent their time racing wildly on the heath. They abandoned themselves, untrammelled by any restraint or convention other than a taboo on games of sensuality. But, in their innocence, they placed their indestructible love for one another on another level, and indeed perhaps this love can be reduced to the refusal to give up an infantile freedom which had not been amended by the laws of society or of conventional politeness. They led their wild life, outside the world, in the most elementary conditions, and it is these conditions which Emily Brontë made tangible – the basic conditions of poetry, of a spontaneous poetry before which both children refused to stop. [23]

This line of flight, of escape, born of childhood, is a runaway train. It does not stop for poetry nor adulthood nor death. As Heathcliff shockingly exclaims, when confessing transgressive thoughts at Catherine’s eventual burial site, harking back to Deleuze’s “negativism beyond all negation”:

‘And if she had been dissolved into earth, or worse, what would you have dreamt of then?’ I said.

‘Of dissolving with her, and being more happy still!’ [24]

The revolutionary nature of their desire, their being, their being-lovers, is a common concern of even the novel’s mainstream literary critics. Terry Eagleton ponders the implications most clearly (bringing to mind once again the previous discussion of anethics I wrote about in “Responsibility & Justice):

Are the two lovers, then, outside the social order in the way that revolutionaries are, or in the manner of a child who is allowed to run half-wild? Are they anti-social in a positive or negative sense, or are they both at the same time? It seems hard to speak of the Catherine–Heathcliff ‘relationship’ in conventional ethical terms such as compassion, affection, friendship, even love. But is this because, like infancy, it falls below the ethical realm, or because, like a revolutionary form of life, it goes beyond it? [25]

Desire can only ever be revolutionary in its beyondness. Desire flows, uninhibited by subject or object. It can be captured, of course, by State and Family, but at its most potent, as Catherine and Heathcliff demonstrate, not even death can stop it. “Death” is, rather, its ally.

As Nick Land writes in his essay “Making It With Death”: “Revolutionary desire allies itself with the molecular death that repels the organism, facilitating uninhibited productive flows…” [26] Death, as limit-experience, is more generally a name for an experiential outside towards which the organism hurtles, repelled by it but nonetheless thanatoidically attracted to it. Deleuze himself, in his essay “Four Propositions on Psychoanalysis”, summarises desire in similar terms:

Every unfolding of desire, in whatever place it may occur, such as a family or a school in the neighbourhood, tests the established order and sends shock waves through the social field as a whole. Desire is revolutionary because it is always seeking more connections. [27]

…Connections that are, always, on the outside.

Multiplicity and desire function as a feedback loop, reaching ever further towards the outside of that which would otherwise seek to capture the spiral. It is this feedback loop that we can use to describe the very engine of the Catherine-Heathcliff becoming. We can — and, of course, should — refer to these gears by a multitude of other names: decomposition (“death”, “thanatos”, multiplicity) and composition (“life”, “eros”, desire) being two I want to draw attention to again here.

Becomings, for Deleuze and Guattari, we must remember, are always lines of flight. They are always modes of escape, of exit; processes of sub-individual intensities; erotic thanatos and thanatoidal eros. (Perhaps we can even think of Catherine’s ghost as a posthumous continuation of her becoming: intensity severed from biological matter, an anorganic becoming in Fisher’s formulatin, nonetheless retaining its orbit to / as Heathcliff.)

Becoming is a process which demands the fragmentation, the multiplication, of the self. Feedback loops spiral off from each other, fractally producing even more spiralling feedback loops. There is no dichotomy of multiples here — becoming-self does not happen across from becoming-other — they are always already entangled in their con-/dis-junctive mutation.

States, in trying to shepherd like cats the rural/unruly subjectivities they produce, within an increasingly globalist community, undergo similar processes of con-/dis-junctive mutation, as has been previously discussed.

Take this extended passage from an excellent essay by Jon Roffe. Can we recognise an echo of the corrosive processes of geopolitics in scaling the “self” and its “society” up to become the “State” and position within our contemporary (if now stunted) trajectory towards “globalism”? (The analogy is by no means a perfect overlay but if we suspend disbelief for a moment…)

The self is thus in precarious relations of composition and decomposition with the society by which it is produced. We meet with people, eat, change our minds. We are moved by books and by cars. We encounter the world innumerable times in our everyday lives. And, in these encounters, our stability as ‘selves’ is perpetually in the presence of elements that constitute the pre-individual milieu from which we are formed. This continual inter-relation of self and society demonstrates, in terms of Deleuze’s position, that there is always room for the current state of a subject to be changed.

It would be excessively optimistic, however, to think that many of these everyday encounters have the power to alter anything profound in terms of what it means to be a self in a particular context. A substantial effort needs to be made, therefore, in order to enable changes in the ways in which we are composed as subjects in specific social contexts. For Deleuze, this takes place in two steps, or moments, which may or may not be distinct in particular cases. First of all, there must be a moment of de-individualization, an escape to some degree from the limits of the individual. Secondly, there must be the constitution of new ways of being in the world, new ways of thinking and feeling, new ways of being a subject. In fact, both movements are given by Deleuze and Guattari a single name: becoming. On the one hand, becoming is a movement on the pre-individual level, the level of what constitutes us: all the movements, connections, pieces of our world that are patched together to form a subject. These becomings ultimately concern new ways of being in the world. On the other hand, becoming is the name for every kind of relationship or connection which is not governed by the dominant codes which organize life. The discussion of becoming-woman undertaken in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ describes both an attempt to flee the gravity of ‘the average adult-white-heterosexual-European-male speaking a standard language’, but also the means by which relationships can be entered into that evade this standardizing grid. Hence, becoming is the name for the constitution of new collective subjectivities. [28]

Likewise, the state is in precarious relations of composition and decomposition with the world of difference by which it is produced. The stability of ‘states’ is perpetually in the presence of elements that constitute the pre-social milieu from which they are formed — the body-without-organs. This continual inter-relation of state and world demonstrates, in terms of Deleuze’s position, that there is always room for the current state of a State to be changed.

Movements fighting for exit, independence, secession, as well as post-/anti-colonial movements, et al.… All express a desire to exist outside the standardised imperial grid left over from centuries of command and conquer. So much of the United Kingdom’s history and culture is defined by resistance to the imperial desires of an “English” elite. Just as we spoke of The Queen’s English previously, this is but one example through which the monarchy throughout history has tried to capture its ruralities, most explicit in the histories of Scotland, Wales and Ireland. As England’s more resolutely captured provinces likewise rebel, they exaberate similar sentiments in the counties.

Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship is precisely an affront to this “standardised” grid. Yorkshire, too, as a region, and particularly its moors — that inherently Gothic zone (a “zone of indiscernibility”, as Deleuze calls it) — is an affront to the standardised enclosures of the UK. The couple-as-war-machine carve up their hedged enclosure-within-an-enclosure along Gothic lines.

In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari draw on the writings of Wilhelm Worringer to describe their conception of the “Gothic line”. They write:

The prodigious idea of Nonorganic Life — the very same idea Worringer considered the barbarian idea par excellence — was the invention, the intuition of metallurgy. Metal is neither a thing nor an organism, but a body without organs. The “Northern, or Gothic, line” is above all a mining or metallic line delimiting this body. [29]

Much could be said here of Yorkshire’s mining communities occasioning its internalising of the Gothic but that is perhaps a tangent for another post.

Mark Fisher, of course, extends the Gothic line to become the “Gothic flatline” in his PhD thesis, Flatline Constructs. Whilst he is moving away from Deleuze and Guattari’s formulation, it does not necessarily feel like this formulation is a million miles from their sense of the Gothic when we consider Deleuze’s later consideration of Wuthering Heights. Fisher writes:

The principal inspiration for this theorization [of the Gothic flatline] comes from Wilhelm Worringer via Deleuze-Guattari. Both Worringer and Deleuze-Guattari identity the Gothic with “nonorganic life”, and whilst this is an equation we shall have cause to query, Gothic Materialism as it is presented here will be fundamentally concerned with a plane that cuts across the distinction between living and nonliving, animate and inanimate. It is this anorganic continuum, it will be maintained, that is the province of the Gothic. [30]

Here Fisher is hoping to entangle the relation of the Gothic explicitly to the cybernetic through  “a deliberate attempt to disassociate the Gothic from everything supernatural, ethereal or otherwordly” [31], jettisoning horror fiction from his considerations in order to “displace the Gothic from some of its existing cultural associations” [32], but Fisher later brought the supernatural Gothic back into the fray in The Weird and the Eerie (as described in my own introduction for the text, written for a discussion at Goldsmiths last summer, and likewise by the Exmilitary collective, who extend this line to include Fisher’s Acid Communism in their new preface to the thesis).

To consider the Gothic (flat)line from this later standpoint, allowing the eerie nature of agency-without-subject to once again include the classically Gothic undead, as instantiated in our context by Catherine’s ghost but also her “living” fractured subject, we can begin to see the Yorkshire moors themselves as a geopolitical Gothic plane, as “a plane where it is no longer possible to differentiate the animate from the inanimate and where to have agency is not necessarily to be alive” [33]. It is in this way, through Fisher’s formulation, that we can attribute the Gothic not only to an absence of subject but also to an abstract “space” as constituted by the history and culture of a collective subject; a multiplicity of subjects.

In a future post I intend to explore the very real cultural impact of the moors in this context, made horrifically palpable by the infamous Moors murders. Although committed in and around Manchester, the bodies of many of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley’s victims were buried on the moors that are historically a part of the same West Riding of Yorkshire where Wuthering Heights is set, resulting in an all-too-material haunting of the moors breaking through the barriers of Gothic fiction. For now, let us remain with the Brontë’s moors as a fictionally affective anorganic plane.

It is through the Gothic line that Catherine-Heathcliff become so entangled with their environment. As Deleuze and Guattari write: “This is what Worringer means when he says that the Gothic line (for us, the nomadic line invested with abstraction) has the power of expression and not of form, that it has repetition as a power, not symmetry as form.” [34]

Catherine and Heathcliff, in this way, “repeat” each other in their becoming whilst being asymmetrical subjects.

Deleuze opens the chapter “Repetition for Itself” in Difference and Repetition with the follow statement: “Repetition changes nothing in the object repeated, but does change something in the mind which contemplates it. The implexity of this maneauvre is seen abjectly in Catherine who goes mad from the internalisation of this function. Deleuze writes that a repeated element “has no in-itself” and, likewise, Catherine’s madness, her “alienation of intellect”, becomes an inability to corroborate an “in-herself” — her mind and sense of Self is changed irreparably by her internal repetitions. Heathcliff’s mind also, in seeing Catherine as a repetition of a desired sense of Self, is unhinged by his contemplation of Catherine’s own repetitions, and this function extends to all the novel’s narrators who contemplate the couple’s fraught becoming. Expanded outwards to consider Yorkshire’s rural subjectivity as a whole, in fiction and reality, this Gothic line is most apparent.

In the previous post, I wrote of Yorkshire’s proud discordance; its appreciation of its internal outsidenesses. If patchwork is to be considered as an “eerie politic”, it is through this entanglement of subjective difference and repetition that an Actually Existing Patchwork may be instantiated. In the initially disjointed quote with which I opened this post, from Elizabeth Gaskell on the Brontë’s Yorkshire, we can see this repetition taking root within the landscape and the minds of those that contemplate it, perceiving it to be “grand, from the ideas of solitude and loneliness which they suggest, or oppressive from the feeling which they give of being pent-up by some monotonous and illimitable barrier, according to the mood of mind in which the spectator may be”.

In future posts, we will continue to explore this further, but so as to relinquish myself of this monstrously long post, we will continue to continue this line of flight at another time.

[1] Elizabeth Gaskell, The Life of Charlotte Brontë.

[2]  Currer Bell [pen name of Charlotte Brontë], “Editor’s Preface to the New [1850] Edition of Wuthering Heights” in Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (London: Penguin, 1985), xlvii.

[3] Heathcliff’s suggested race is of great importance here as a striking example, for 1847 especially, of societal outsideness — the relevance of which will soon become apparent. Most do not consider Heathcliff’s race at all, thanks to his repeated whitewashing throughout the book’s dozens of adaptations for film and television. The 2011 adaptation was, to my knowledge, the first Hollywood adaptation to cast a mixed-race actor in the role: James Howson. Howson’s later struggles with mental illness, following the breakdown of a relationship, feel like a very unfortunate example of life imitating art…

[4] Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (London: Penguin, 1985), 122. Quoted in: Gilles Deleuze, “Bartleby; or, The Formula” in Essays Critical and Clinical, trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco (London: Verso, 1998), 85.

[5] Gilles Deleuze, “Bartleby; or, The Formula”, 84.

[6] Ibid., 71.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 73.

[10] Maurice Blanchot, The Unavowable Community, trans. Pierre Joris. (Barrytown: Station Hill Press, 1988), 48.

[11] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2004), 484.

[12] Gilles Deleuze, “Bartleby; or, The Formula”, 84.

[13] Ibid., 72.

[14] Ibid., 71.

[15] I once read that accents in the UK noticeably change phonetically every twenty-five miles. Doubtless dialects will not be far behind. Whilst Yorkshire is most famous for its dissolving of the definite article in quotidian speech, from place to place dialects mutate at an alarming rate.

[16] Benjamin Noys, Georges Bataille: A Critical Reader (London: Pluto Press, 2000), 11-12.

[17] Julia Briggs, “The Ghost Story” in The Companion to the Gothic, ed. David Punter. PDF not paginated.

[18] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 1.

[19] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2004), 56-57.

[20] Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, 19.

[21] Eve Sedgwick, “Immediacy, Doubleness and the Unspeakable” in The Coherence of Gothic Conventions (New York and London: Methuen, 1986), 106. I am tempted here to draw on an essay by Amy Ireland but, since it is, at the time of writing, unpublished, I will wait for her exploration of the feminine double to stand on its own. It’s a fucking brilliant, fyi.

[22] Mark Fisher, Flatline Constructs: Gothic Materialism and Cybernetic Theory-Fiction.

[23] Georges Bataille, Literature and Evil, trans. Alastair Hamilton (London: Penguin Classics, 2012), 11-12.

[24] Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, 289.

[25] Terry Eagleton, The English Novel: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), 135.

[26] Nick Land, “Making It With Death” in Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings, 1987-2007, eds. Robin Mackay & Ray Brassier (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2011), 277.

[27] Gilles Deleuze, “Four Propositions on Psychoanalysis” in Two Regimes of Madness: Texts & Interviews 1975—1995, trans. Ames Hodges and Mike Tomlinson, ed. David Lapoujade (New York: Semiotext(e), 2006), 81.

[28] Jonathan Roffe, “The Revolutionary Dividual” in Deleuzian Encounters: Studies in Contemporary Social Issues, eds. Anna Hickey-Moody and Petra Malins (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 42-43.

[29] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 479.

[30] Mark Fisher, Flatline Constructs: Gothic Materialism and Cybernetic Theory Fiction.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 578.

[35] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (London and New York: Continuum, 1994), 70.


4 thoughts on “Lovers’ Flight: The Gothic Line in ‘Wuthering Heights’

  1. Lovely post, and as with all your posts of late I have bunch of (currently disjointed) thoughts flying it in many directions from it. In lieu of lengthy exegesis (gotta save those for the blogz), I just want to mention that the enclosure-within-enclosure as escape from the stratifications of the subjectivizing grid brings to mind for me this incredible passage from the “Becoming Intense, Becoming Animal” plateau in ATP:

    “Opposed to the punctual system are linear, or rather multilinear, systems. Free the line, free the diagonal: every musician or painter has this intention. One elaborates a punctual system or a didactic representation but with the aim of making it snap, of sending a tremor through it. A punctual system is most interesting when there is a musician, a painter, writer, philosopher to oppose it, who even fabricates it in order to oppose it, like a springboard to jump from. History is only made by those who oppose history (not by those who insert themselves into it, or even reshape it). This is not done for provocation but happens because the punctual system they found ready-made, or themselves invented must have allowed this operation: free the line and diagonal, draw the line instead of plotting a point, produce an imperceptible diagonal instead of clinging to an even elaborated or reformed vertical or horizontal… Creations are like mutant abstract lines that have detached themselves from the task of representing a world, precisely because they assemble a new type of reality that history can only recontain or relocate in punctual systems.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Frankenstate – xenogoth

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