Uprootedness, Resentment, and the Will to Power in Emily Brontë

Uprootedness, Resentment, and the Will to Power in Emily Brontë

Michail Theodosiadis (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9444-4.ch005
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The chapter reflects on Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights and brings into the discussion the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Jung, Simone Weil, and Hannah Arendt. It emphasizes Heathcliff's personality as an expression of the will to power, a theme that has been developed both by Arendt and Nietzsche. It will be argued that the will to power is the outcome of uproodetness, a notion developed and thoroughly examined by Simone Weil. Finally, the present study elaborates on Christopher Lasch and Carl Jung simultaneously and seeks solution to a problem that also characterizes the contemporary Western societies, the liquidation of norms and values (cultural updootedness, in other words), the destruction of the past, of a world within which human beings develop their own sense of personality and identity, a world that, simultaneously, functions as a positive simulator in order to avoid resentment and destruction.
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‘When Emily Brontë’, writes Haire-Sargeant (2003), ‘created the pivotal character Heathcliff, she set herself a daunting challenge; how to tell the story of a brutal, calculating sadist, the bane of two families over two generations, in such a way that by the end the reader’s horror is overwhelmed by sympathy’ (p.410). Heathcliff is depicted as ‘a diabolical man’ (Brontë, 2003, p.171), cruel, revengeful, cynical, ‘selfish and disagreeable’ (p.163), for whom one can only reserve the worst possible condemnation (Haire-Sargeant 2003, p.410). Perhaps, if there could ever be a religion denying the existence God altogether, considering instead hell as the one and only matrix of the world’s creation and the sole posthumous space at the same time, Heathcliff's figure could serve as its best representative archetype. Understandably, the reader’s initial reactions toward Heathcliff’s personality are overwhelmed by extreme aversion. However, a more careful examination on Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847/2003) sheds light on certain aspects of the character’s inner world, unveiling strong links between traumatic experiences. His unrestrained passion for revenge is the outcome of the intense suffering himself experienced as a child. More to the point, Heathcliff personifies individual and social attitudes that exist or have been always existed. According to Northrop Frye (1982), stories written within ‘a particular context’ acquire ‘a universal significance’ as long as it resonate to different realities from which they have been produced (p.217). In order to understand how Brontë’s Romantic novel resonates in the contemporary world it is necessary to examine the thought of the French mystic and philosopher Simone Weil, and more precisely, her concept of uprootedness, developed in her famous treatise The Need for Roots (1943/1987). Uprootedness signifies the destruction of one’s cultural past and the loss of a common world within which all sorts of meanings, capable of producing a stable and solid life, can be traced. Uprootedness is ‘by far the most dangerous malady to which human societies are exposed’ (p.45). Uprootedness is what characterizes Heathcliff's traumatic experiences. In a sense, it could be argued that Heathcliff is a ‘tragic’ personality. As Aristotle explains in Poetics (2013), tragedy is synonymous with imitation of an occurrence. In ancient drama, more specifically, actors have no capacity of exercising free will. Instead, they are obliged to follow an alreaedy written scenario. The ‘classical tragedy’, argues Spengler (1960) (while elaborating on Aristotle) is ‘the lament of a given theme’ subordinated ‘to the visual presentation of a great human suffering as present motive’ (p.174). By taking the word imitation literally in order to describe cases where human beings are forced to copy the actions of others, one understands that classical tragedy per se is concerned with the absence of free will. Such as the actors of the ancient dramma are helpless, impotent and powerless, incapable of intervening on the scenario which has been already set before them, being subjects to inexorable suffering for which they can claim very little or no responsibility at all, similarly human beings who have lost their free will, their capacity to judge impartially, are ruled by their unconscious passions. Their attitude is shaped by their inner deep and dark impulses. Making sense of this rationale requires us to move back to Weil’s (1987) idea of updootedness. For the same author, the uprooted populations fall ‘into a spiritual lethargy resembling death, like the majority of the slaves in the days of the Roman Empire’ (p.45). Weil brings up the example of the rise to power of National Socialism in Germany, where ‘uprootedness had taken on an aggressive form, whereas in France it was characterized by inertia and stupor’ (p.46). Therefore, if uprootedness boosts revenge, authoritarianism, ruthlessness, and leads human beings to inertia (Theodosiadis 2017), Heathcliff’s cynicism, selfishness and passion for revenge derives from his rootlessness and humiliation he experienced as a child. Uprootedness, in other words, causes sharp pain and intense emotional excitement. The emotional explosions emerging due to the absence of a common world, capable of ascribing meaning and common purpose, creates the appropriate conditions where human beings are left at the mercy of their own despair. Their capacity for conscious determination and rational thinking is drained tout court. Unable to exercize free will, they sink into the abyss of extreme anger; passions direct their own deeds often with unpredictable consequences.

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