(réf.  Etudes Britanniques Contemporaines n° 8. Montpellier: Presses universitaires de Montpellier, 1995)


What am I? Who am I? William Golding crossing the lines of the ego

 Nadia D'Amelio-Martiello (Ecole d'Interprètes internationaux, Université de Mons - Belgique)


William Golding, morally born out of and scarred by his fighting in WWII, inevitably roots his fictional work in his experience of a devastating loss of human identity epitomised in the cultural clashes raging throughout Europe and the world. The opening scene of his most esoteric novel Darkness Visible re-enacts the Apocalypse of the London Blitz, thereby highlighting most powerfully the terrible error of having made a Babel-Tower of this human world. Against this background of disintegration by fire and bombing, Matty, the protagonist, slowly comes to put into words the only question worth answering, worth dying for, i.e., first in a psychological approach "Who am I?," then in purely ontological terms "What am I?," two questions that must find an answer before Matty can hope to realise what he is for: his function as a truly aware human being. From the outset, as indeed in Lord of the Flies, the problem of coming to grips with a widely varying range of cultures or ethnocentricities opens up the path to a more crucial and urgent quest, i.e. the quest for self-knowledge, the alter-ego or the quest for the Other.

Golding, whose most compelling urge has always been, as he puts it, to know whatever he is under the Eye of Heaven," already as a child felt that not only do contemporary cultural borders need to be crossed, but that primarily historical leaps should be taken into prehistory, Ancient Egypt or Ancient Greece because this was, already to his young sensitivity, our true inheritance. The young Bill was rash to cross the lines between present and past, having an innate capacity to awaken his inherited kinship with Ancient Egypt. His almost occult encounter with the Egyptian mummy in the British Museum, which he imaginatively helped unshroud, leaves him in a state of complete identification





with the embalmer-priest who was last to touch the long bandages three thousand years ago. Golding adds in "Egypt from My Inside": "(he) was surely standing with us now, wherever now was ... and at last I laid my compelled, my quivering, and sacrilegious hand on the thing in itself, experienced beyond all Kantian question, the bone, and its binding of thick, leathery skin."

This sense of immediacy with Ancient civilisations and with prehistory so deeply permeates Golding's consciousness as to lead him to taut technical choices in his fiction, namely, above all, the choice of adequate narrators and narrowly focalized points of view. Being one with the Egypt of mystery, the pyramids and the Valley of Kings, having pored over the blue of the Eye of Osiris until the impersonal stare has made him feel as still as a star, Golding instinctively hopes to break through a crust, an obscuration into a kind of knowledge of the intimidating truth of what man is, well beyond historical and cultural walls. The Egyptian Mummy is part of the whole man, of what we are deep down under the crust of our ego and stereotyped persona. If a transcultural identity must, indeed, be sought, Golding indicates that we are not merely creatures of the present but that history is also there as a compelling presence felt and not analysed.

To Golding, who calls himself an amateur archaeologist, the point of digging up the ground near Salisbury or Stonehenge is, by twitching aside the green coverlet of grass, to find there that most primitive of Europe's men – Neanderthal Man – which links up directly with his second most challenging novel The Inheritors, in which the writer masterfully penetrates temporal boundaries to identify at once Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens, i.e. ourselves. The Egyptian relics and prehistoric bones irradiate, to Golding, not a widening memento mori but far more a memento vivere, the reflected image of one of the concealed layers of his being, actually of one of the most deeply imbedded cores of meaning, of his identity. To use Golding's words: "I recognize in their relics ... my own mournful staring into the darkness, my own savage grasp on life." In the Ancient Egyptian, in fact, Golding recognises an alter-ego, because of his unreason, of his spiritual pragmatism and his capacity for ambiguous belief. This mirror spatialisation which, at first, seems to deconstruct the subject under investigation, in fact does not solve the whole problem. What Golding states with his sense of historic immediacy is the rights of a decentring of the ego as a rightful component of the problem of identity, before any attempt at recapturing identity by means of a parmenedian logic of tautology or self-centred identity. The removal of the ego from its mirror-image or imago, to use Lacan's terminology, is precisely the locus where the subject can be assimilated into the symbolic order. In Golding's work, the gap separating the present-day ego from his ancestral imago helps visualise the source of the symbolic dimension of identity. The young Bill, like the earlier novelist, instinctively chooses to go






through the "mirror stage" made explicit by the temporal gap which is, in itself, a duplication of the necessary gap between the symbolic and the real from which all figuration of identity must originate. Golding's attempt at retrieving the facets of the ego is an original form of heresy against the naively phenomenological forms of identity as established by the empiricists, functionalists or, indeed, culturalists.

When Golding dives into the depths of prehistory to better unveil his alter ego, the process undergone by the reader and the protagonist bears unmistakable similarities with Jung's unshrouding of the persona (or social mask) to eventually disclose its Shadow or, indeed, alter ego. The dreams in particular make us familiar with unconscious aspects of our personality which, for diverse reasons, we prefer to leave ignored or untouched. That is what Jung calls the awakening to the presence of the Shadow. He used this term because the unconscious part of our ego often appears in our dreams in a personified form. The Shadow is made of unknown or less known attributes and qualities of the ego which belong to the personal aspects of the psyche, but also contain collective factors stemming from outside the individual's personal life. To face one's Shadow often causes shame; the ego discovers defects in his self-image, negative tendencies, namely often egotism, mental and spiritual numbness, indifference and cowardice, inertia, greed and love of material things, the overproduction of phantasms and plots, in a word all facets he may have thought easy to conceal and bury. Ignore the Shadow, it will force itself out impulsively. The ego must put aside its self-conceit to integrate the vital, positive forces of the Shadow instead of repressing them. Often, a second symbolical character surges up along the path traced by the Shadow, creating new problems. Jung has called these feminine and masculine figures "Animus" and "Anima." The "Anima," as it appears in Golding repeatedly, is the personification of all the feminine psychological tendencies of a man's psyche, as undefined feelings or tempers, prophetic intuitions, a sense of the irrational, the capacity for personal love, the oneness with nature and, above all, the relations with the unconscious.

Lord of the Flies, the first fictional attempt at man's identification, is characterised by an obstinate refusal to trust the features of the ego, a total indictment to retrieving a state of pure nature, similar to a "degree zero" of nature and society and of the clash between nature and culture. Seemingly starting off with Rousseau's rationalist strategy summed up in the latter's words: "Commençons par écarter tous les faits," Golding, however, proves that his characters' egos or personae are but the masks of a buried but latent Shadow. Interestingly, the author compares the necessary unmasking of the ego with the process of watching one's mirror image in the water as a way of glimpsing at one's Shadow. Characteristically, Jack,





the chief hunter, kneels down along the river and stares at his own reflected image not to penetrate it, but, on the contrary, to better paint the colourful mask of his tribe on his face. By so doing, he symbolically counters the Jungian process of self-discovery and hides behind the mask of his hunter persona, thereby shunning the vision of his imago or alter-ego and dangerously giving himself up to the social, ritual and, indeed, cultural forces of the tribe. Given the edenic opportunity of defining himself in purely ontological terms, discarding all the irrelevancies of social and psychological stratifications, Jack fails to step down from his ego and tear off the mask. Golding here shows that what matters above all, if culture must be rebuilt ex nihilo, is the necessity to "deconstruct" the notion of identity into the multiple determinations of the self and, equally, of the group. What is essential is to reject the myth of self – or group – insularity, a notion convincingly analysed by C. Lévi-Strauss in La Pensée sauvage. The evil, the Beelzebub of Lord of the Flies, is also born of cross-culturalism which cannot be solved unless self-centred egos or groups are crushed down to their essentials.

To a great extent the persona versus Shadow problem also constitutes the main theme of The Inheritors, but whereas Simon in Lord of the Flies comes face to face with his antagonistic alter ego, i.e. his own share of evil, the two facets of identity pictured in the two human species fail to communicate fruitfully. The Neanderthal, we are told, had a highly refined idea of peace which incorporated the notions of oneness with nature, of social harmony, of egalitarianism, of what might be regarded as a Platonic sense of place and duty. Homo Sapiens, on the contrary, has no such sense of perfection. Their sphere, our sphere, is biased, wobbling out of control. No communication, no ritual federates the two communities. The Neanderthal can only experience Homo Sapiens's capacity for evil despite their naive approach to the new species, while the New Men can never feel the warm goodness of primitive man. Only the reader eventually identifies, thanks to a subtle technique of abruptly shifting focalisation, the extremes pictured by the two species, which sum up the multi-layered richness offered to man removed from cultural confines. Tuami, however, does reach, at the end of the novel, a certain degree of insight into the limits of his ego, although his experience cannot be compared to the self-redefining Jungian encounter with one's Shadow. Sitting next o the "little devil," i.e. the rescued Neanderthal baby inherited from the extinct species –  promise, however frail, of reconciliation –,Tuami ponders on the newly experienced clash with the Other while playing with a knife pointed at the horizon:

Holding the ivory firmly in his hands, feeling the onset of sleep, Tuami looked at he line of darkness. It was far away and there was plenty of water in between. He






peered forward past the sail to see what lay at the other end of the lake, but it was so long and there was such a flashing from the water that he could not see if the line of darkness had an ending.

In "Pincher Martin," once again Golding tries to unmask ontological identity and suggest a possible way of being granted self-knowledge. Once more, only the reader can discover the unmasked face of Pincher because of the novelist's apt use of restrictive and shifting focalisation right to the end. Pincher's unflinching ego imaginatively washed ashore on his fictional rock of survival exposes the deeply ingrained features of his persona-identity and rises up against the third-person omniscient narrator who watches Pincher's intractable will gradually drown in the ocean of his hubris. Of all Golding's protagonists, Pincher is the one who sticks most obstinately to his persona in order to shun the upsurge of his Shadow from the cellar of his unconscious. Step by step, relentlessly, the god-like narrator tears off Pincher's mask, strips God's thief down to his naked greed. Pincher draws the last relic of his persona facet from his military card and reads it again and again as a kind of self-protecting formula. But the Shadow does not let itself be evaded or exorcised by any attempt at clinging to rationality. As concerns the Jungian catalyst of self-mirroring to meet one's reflected alter ego, Golding treats it with searing parody when Pincher says: "How can I have a complete identity without a mirror?" Pincher's identity is bound to remain incomplete, and despite the varied reproductions of this incompleteness through mirrored images or photographs, Pincher never reaches the status of a "round" or fully developed character. To attain wholeness, Pincher should agree to face his Shadow, the thing he turned from when he was created," as the narrator puts it. The ignored Shadow clashing with the unflinching persona eventually causes the "Black Lightning" to annihilate Pincher the thief. In the first three novels, in the same way as Jung exposes the existence of Hitler fascism and Stalinism theoretically as functions of the collective unconscious, Golding provides the phenomenon with pregnant literary icons.

Turning to Free Fall, a novel where the painter Sammy searches retrospectively for the moment when he lost his freedom and walled in his ego in guilt, the quest for complete awareness of identity is countered by Sammy's total dedication to his Beatrice, a rather empty girl to whom he wrongly attributes the power of the Anima. Caught and lost in the erroneous personification of the complementary facet of his self, Sammy can experience no fulfilment but only the prisoner's confinement to stultifying boundaries and hurtful chains. Quite convincingly, Sammy soon finds himself hardly able to paint






Beatrice's white body except in the electric lights of Guernica. The catalyst helping Sammy to meet his Shadow is no longer expressed in Sammy's self-mirroring but in the visual artist's confinement to the pitch dark cell of the Nazi prisoner-of-war camp.

Already during his conversation with Dr. Haide, the German Nazi psychiatrist starts tearing off his persona mask, so that Sammy is helplessly handed over to his Shadow in utter loneliness. Now Mountjoy is able to admit his guilt in manipulating Beatrice to misguided ends. The recognition is a revelation, a mystical experience of the kind that may occur in theology or in psychology. Sammy is now willing and able to meet again the previous fake manifestation of his Anima, but Beatrice went mad soon after Sammy left her and is now unrecognisable, a forlorn woman confined to a mental asylum. The novel shows how the self at the levels of both individuality and collectivity is informed by implicit or explicit contrast, as in the war then racing in Europe. Sammy's individual self is shown to define itself by reference to a "Significant Other"; likewise, self-conscious cultures and communities, as exemplified by the Nazi psychiatrist. Typically, Golding, through Sammy the painter, epitomises the moment of reconciliation and understanding with Sammy's famous painting of the Kings of Egypt, which does not fail to recall the novelist's instinctive sense of immediacy with our ancestors, irrespective of the ethnological forms of culture.

Golding's innate immediacy with the past again urged him to investigate the problem of identity in the Middle Ages and of the ego's complex motivations in another masterpiece, The Spire. The novelist accepts the challenge of delving into medieval Salisbury to unravel the reasons that might have brought the Dean of the Cathedral to build the highest spire in England knowing that the Cathedral itself had been built in the middle of a swamp. Transculturality is woven into the text because of temporal distanciation and the choice of an unusual protagonist, but the problem of identity – across time and characterisation – prevails very clearly. What compelled Dean Jocelin to set whole teams of workers to erect a hubristic spire with complete indifference to such things as health, foundations, access and general practicability? After careful and close analysis, the Dean's total subjection to the power of his Anima, assuming human form as well as that of an overwhelming idea, appears to be the central stimulus of the plot. As usual with Golding the feminine character embodying the Anima remains but a schematic mirage whose action, however, proves to have all the archetypal power which can chain Dean Jocelin as its sacrificial object. Goody Pangall, alive or dead, appears to Jocelin in dream. first in the guise of a devil who masturbates the Cathedral, i.e. Jocelin himself, but then also as the real woman with red hair to whom he is, against all odds, dedicated, however perversely. In






his last dream, soon after the completion of the architectural erection, Jocelin dreams of a pure sexual union with Goody, now entailing no shame or disgust:

In this uncountry there was blue sky and light, consent and no sin. She came toward him naked in her red hair. She was smiling and humming from an empty mouth. He knew the sound explained everything, removed all hurt and all concealment, for this was the nature of the uncountry; but he knew she was there, and moving towards him totally as he was moving towards her. Then there was a wave of ineffable good sweetness, wave after wave, and an atonement.

When he realises that the devil and Goody are one, Jocelin can eventually face the real nature of his vision, hence of his Shadow. Thereby he can understand that his total dedication to God's will was at once of numinous and sexual nature. This phenomenon can be translated into the medium of the Inquisition Tribunal of the Middle Ages, and also in Jung's terminology, as witchcraft. The Anima offers Jocelin suffering and humiliation. Dismissed from his clerical function, he dies completely misunderstood and ridiculed. But at the same time, Jocelin approaches a state of inner liberation. Since he admits the unreliability of his persona as an inspired Dean, Jocelin is granted the vision of the apple tree, an arrow joining heaven and earth, and thereby proves that self-knowledge is inseparable from knowledge of the world. In the end, in the first part of Golding's work, only Pincher Martin remains entrapped in the materialistic, blind, egocentric boundaries of his typically modern persona. Insofar as Pincher exemplifies man's fall into the trap of egotism, and insofar as he sums up the model of a European rationality as an absolute, excluding differences and transcendence, his utterances also spell out the idea of a rescuing universalisation in a Western locus where one believes in the progressive unification of all facets of history. Like Pincher Martin, does this universalisation not run the risk of falling into the trap of ethnocentricity?

The question raised here ties in very closely with the cultural clashes and losses sketched very powerfully in The Paper Men. Although the challenging novel in which a famous British writer desperately flees from his undeterred American would-be biographer may be enlightened by Jung's model of identity, it also strikes the reader with its clear warning against the death of all cultures. My paper "No Inheritors in W. Golding's The Paper Men" enhances the link between the failed filiation between the author as father-figure and the critic as son-figure as well as the failed filiation between older and newer cultures. Furthermore, it highlights the threatening problem of the loss of





cultural diversity as a failure to recognise and accept the "Significant Other" and the easy solution of erasing the boundaries that varied cultures are unable to cope with. Golding sweeps the reader along in the wake of the writer's frenetic flight from the hidden facets of his self, while questioning his persona but obstinately clinging to it: he thereby offers a mirror-image of this stratification of the ego in the homogenised picture of the Old Continent as contrasted with the seemingly boundless New Continent in search of further identification with the father-figure, i.e. in search of personal, historical. cultural, even mythical definition.

Personal and international levels of meaning are one in vision. From the outset, the mutual recognition of significant boundaries and complementarities appears unachievable, clearly doomed by the archetypal figures looming behind the characters. The main reason seems to be each partner's conscious refusal or inability to strip himself of his persona-mask, hence their commitment to inverted human values, although the I-narrator presents the American's self-delusive acts as informed by innocence or ignorance. Contrary to Sammy Mountjoy, Wilf Barclay, Golding's other portrait of the artist, dodges his Shadow through restless travelling. As suggested in my paper on failed inheritage in The Paper Men: "the background is always changing, yet always the same to the fugitive's eyes which rest on what they wish to flee from and do not see a self-transforming flash of revelation but merely a series of unfolding, yet uncompleted epiphanies."

The necessity of a detotalisation of the ego requires a formal comparison and an "analysis situs": a gross, immediate, surface identity should give way, to a quest of the deep structures shaping identity in its relational aspect; once again, the question of the Other appears to partake entirely of the delimitation of identity. In The Paper Men, the whole of Western culture is going through a rite of survival. Golding, following A. Toynbee in his Study of History, points to the all-embracing scope of so-called Western culture, and exposes, not only the clash with the New World, but also the uniformity of all countries visited during Barclay's flight, which dramatically denotes how much of Europe's cultural wealth has already been lost. "L'exclusive fatalité, l'unique tare qui puissent affliger un groupe humain et 1'empêcher de réaliser pleinement sa nature, c'est d'être seul," C. Lévi-Strauss writes in Race et Histoire, thereby asking each cultural identity to outgrow the limits of its ethnocentricity by meeting the Other. The title of the novel highlights the main cause of the failure of interpenetrative communication between people, namely our being no longer human, but made of insubstantial paper. Because of this loss of human substance, Golding's paper men are not only like T.S. Eliot's "Hollow Men," but also the spiritual Shadow, the Anima, and the materialistic ego seen in




personal, cultural and international perspectives. With the American critic's eventual shooting of his alter ego and spiritual father, no cultural birth or perpetuation has been granted to the modern world, strangely reminiscent of Pincher Martin's annihilated ego.

It would be a mistake, however, to characterise Golding's responses as primarily "traditionalistic," implying that a highly relevant facet of identity is mired in its own past and proves unable to face up to present imperatives. Rather, the past, whether personal or cultural, is used here as a resource in a number of ways. The manner in which Golding invokes the past is strongly indicative of the kinds of circumstance which make such a "past-reference" salient. It is actually a highly selective construction of the past which resonates with contemporary influences. In fact, Golding's creative investigation of the problem of identity resembles myth. Besides conferring a kind of "rightness" on a course of action by extending to it the aura or manna which enshrouds tradition, mythological distance also lends a healthy detachment from an otherwise murky contemporary view. Because of its a-historical/timeless character, the writer places his creation beyond time and blocks off the past, making it impervious to the rationalistic scrutiny of culturalists, anthropologists, historians, or even reductive psychoanalysts. Golding treats myth as much more than a way of cognitively mapping past, present and future, namely as a means of symbolising the human predicament. In the field of culture, as A. Cohen puts it in his study The Symbolic Construction of Community:

Culture – the community experienced by its members – does not consist in social structure or in "the doing" of social behaviour. It inheres, rather, in "the thinking" about it. It is in this sense that we can speak of the community as a symbolic, rather than a structural, construct.

Significantly, Golding chose to treat periods of crises in his novels: indeed, symbols of the past, mythically infused with timelessness, attain particular effectiveness during periods of intensive social change when communities have to drop their heaviest cultural anchors in order to resist the currents of transformation flooding from the Other.

The elusive novel Darkness Visible finds an apt visual correlative in its protagonist's appearance. Matty, miraculously born out of the blazing fire of the London Blitz, is by nature a figure without a face, without a name, that is, the perfect object of a genuine quest for identity in a multiracial, highly stratified society which has long tended to regard itself as the repository of Western culture. Matty's two-toned face horribly scarred by the burnings of the War discloses, in Jungian terms, the necessity to undergo the process of





individuation if Matty is ever to gain self-awareness and spiritual wholeness. Besides, his very namelessness epitomises the elusiveness of the problem of identity and its inescapable connection with the question of the Other. Precisely this question is raised in a privileged manner when the problem of naming is examined. Because he has "no background but the fire" – directly reminiscent of Milton's Paradise Lost and T.S. Eliot's "infernal city" in "Little Gidding.," the last of his Four Quartets –, Matty is first called "number Seven" on his admission to hospital. Soon after, a nurse names him Matthew Septimus, but the specificity of his Christian names is belied by the seeming vagueness of his assigned surname, namely Windrove. Moreover, Matty's name is endlessly mixed up by everyone he meets, hence his shifting surname from Windrove, Windrave, Windarave, Windup, Windgraff, Wingwright to Windwood: partly emphasising the arbitrariness of his surface identity and essential anonymity in the eyes of others, partly, however, signalling that his true and deep self belongs to the spiritual dimension symbolised by the hardly visual, constant reference to the elusive wind. So it is essentially his spirituality that defines him in front of the Other, not at all the hideous, alienating effect of his deformity. As Jean-Marie Benoist and C. Lévi-Strauss put it in their study on social anthropology "le nom propre, lieu de 1'inscription sociale du groupe sur le sujet est à mettre en rapport avec le type de refonte que le sig-nifiant opère sur 1'illusoire identité à soi de la personne: nom de groupe, nom d'individu, la question du clivage se met ici à insister ..."

In search of a face, in search of a name and function in the world, Matty is first unaware of the rich symbolism of the "wind" component of his surname. unable to decipher the sign granted him by the god-like author. Consequently. he must undertake a self-exacting quest. Matty leaves England's self-destructive insularity behind and pursues his quest in the vast Australian outback. The key to the spiritual search that began with renewed impetus when he reached Australia, the question of identity is reformulated by Matty after his ordeal, i.e. the crucifixion played on him by the fake Aborigine that leaves him impotent. "Who am I?" had already become "What am I?" and now, at last, becomes the burning question "What am I for?"

It was Alan Pringle, an editor reputed to be good at titles who thought of Lord of the Flies to replace Golding's original choice. Had Golding not been asked to improve on it, the novel would have been known as Strangers from Within, which Charles Monteith, the writer's publisher, found at once too abstract and too explicit. "Strangers from Within" best epitomises the author's response to the theme of transculturality and identity. The question of the "significant Other," the encounter with the hidden but compulsive Shadow and the recognition of the function of the Anima all prove that reconciling others is a




correlative form of reconciling one's inner buried or unknown "strangers." Strangers from without cannot possibly raise any obstacle against cultural generation provided strangers from within have been met and humbly accepted. Golding undertakes the endeavour to give shape to this personal and cultural challenge in his fiction, itself a mirror-image of the author's own grasp of man and his sphere of existence marked by specific techniques, narrative biases and a consistent use of the language of signs which constitute Golding's original seal. To conclude with Ricœur:

Si ... on définit le signe comme une chose qui représente une autre chose, la transparence consiste en ceci que, pour représenter, le signe tend à s'effacer et ainsi se faire oublier en tant que chose. Mais cette oblitération du signe en tant que chose n'est jamais complète. II est des circonstances où le signe ne réussit pas à se rendre aussi absent; en s'opacifiant, il s'atteste à nouveau comme chose et révèle sa structure éminemment paradoxale d'entité présente-absente.



 (réf.  Etudes Britanniques Contemporaines n° 8. Montpellier: Presses universitaires de Montpellier, 1995)