Life's Little Ironies: Affirmative Pessimism in Thomas Hardy's Short Fiction
Michel Foucault argues that is not enough to merely keep repeating that God and man have died a common death. We must also identify the particularities of the space left empty by the author, tracking the distribution of gaps and breaches and locating the openings that his disappearance lays bare. This assertion echoes Nietzsche's demand that humanity examine the consequences of the death of God – consequences that include a continual plunging into the infinite nothing of empty space. But rather than surrender to nihilism or relativism, we must recognize the implicit potential of this space, and then set about inventing festivals of atonement and sacred games so that new values and meanings might be created. Modern criticism makes these empty spaces 'readable' by examining the unconscious scripting of a text, and through it the mutability of signs and the layering of significance. Foucault remarks that even though a modernist reading of a text does not concern itself with questions of authentication, the writer still serves in the evolution, maturation and influence of a text at a certain level of thought or desire, whether it be conscious or unconscious. Using modernist textual theory, this paper will demonstrate how facets of Schopenhauerian and Nietzschean philosophy inform Thomas Hardy's short fiction, giving particular consideration to the stories 'The Fiddler of the Reels' (1893) and 'An Imaginative Woman' (1893). In doing so, it will illuminate the ways in which the cultural unconscious inhabits the tenuous space left by the death of God – in the first instance, through narrative formation, and then by showing how ideological assemblages are reconstructed from such formations. I will argue that it is in the tension between the theoretical doctrines of Schopenhauer (renunciation and asceticism) and Nietzsche (creative self-affirmation) that spaces are opened up whereby the subject can produce a meaningful critique of being.
Keywords: Thomas Hardy, Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Death of God, Affirmative Pessimism
Ms Lucyna Janina Swiatek
PhD candidate, Department of English Division of Humanities, Macquarie University