"Now, at the name of the fabulous artificer, he seemed to hear the noise of dim waves and to see a winged form flying above the waves and slowly climbing the air."
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
The Daedalus Complex is the name that I had given to a project that draws upon René Girard's theories of mimetic desire and the scapegoat mechanism and Kenneth Burke's observation that "the perfection of the work, including the perfecting of the victim" is a fundamental motive underlying all narratives. Its title was taken from the story of Daedalus as recounted by Ovid in his Metamorphoses, in which the perfect work is represented by the objects that Daedalus constructs -- including both the labyrinth that was commanded by King Minos and the wings that allowed him to escape from Knossos -- and the role of perfect victim is played in turn by the Minotaur and Icarus. It focused on the comparable craftsmanship exhibited by writers who create both perfect victims in the form of protagonists who serve as the scapegoats upon whom they displace a form of suffering that could otherwise have been their own, and perfect works in the form of literary masterpieces in which the sacrificing of their victims – foreshadowed by the fates of the Minotaur and Icarus – will assure their enduring glory. More recently, Mircea Eliade's work on the role played by human sacrifice in construction-site rituals and alchemical processes -- which bears a striking resemblance to the act of literary creation -- has led to some fresh thinking about this project. In particular, it has helped me to shift the emphasis away from the community's sacrificing of the scapegoat as a way of putting an end to internecine violence and toward the author's sacrificing of his protagonist in order to construct his work. I've been especially intrigued in this respect by Eliade's discussion of "The Legend of Master Manole," a Romanian folktale in which an architect learns that he must sacrifice his own wife in order to build the church that he has designed.
Throughout this project, I have had at hand such resonant touchstones for the perfecting of the victim as T. S. Eliot’s question, raised in a letter, "Is it true that sometimes one can only live by another's dying?” as well as his celebrated distinction, in “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” between “the man who suffers” and “the mind which creates," the Romanian writer Emil Cioran’s assertion that “cruelty is a sign of election, at least in literature,” and Vladimir Nabokov's quip that the characters in his novels are "my galley slaves." Stephen Daedalus’s assertion, in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, that “the artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails'' was an especially useful touchstone with respect to the perfection of the work.
A triune figure representing the uncanny symbiosis of
the designing author, his designated victim, and the formal
design of his work.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Daedalus Complex
"Together with his father, the boy Icarus
was standing unaware he was facing danger
now with a beaming face kept on capturing the feathers
which the moving air has moved, with his thumb now kept softening the yellow wax
and with his play he kept interrupting the marvelous work of his father."
Ch. 1 Fixing James Gatz in The Great Gatsby
“’I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before,’
he said, nodding determinedly.”
Ch. 2 Being Scrupulous in “The
“He was too scrupulous always,
she said. The duties of the priesthood
were too much for him.”
Ch.3 Incarnating Loss in The Book of Disquiet
“I don’t mourn the loss of my childhood;
I mourn because everything, including (my) childhood, is lost.”
Ch. 4 Doing Nothing in Waiting for Godot
"Nothing to be done"
Ch. 5 The Eliot Ways in “The Love Song of J. Alfred
"Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways"
Ch. 6 Playing It in Endgame
"Since that's the way we're playing it . . ."
Ch. 7 Transfiguring Hysteria in A Short History of Decay
“The wonders of the earth – and, a
fortiori, those of heaven – result from a durable hysteria. »
Ch. 8 Perfecting Misfits in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”
“’I call myself the Misfit,’ he said, ‘because I can’t make
what all I done wrong fit what all I gone
through in punishment.’”
Ch. 9 Emulating Glenn Gould in The Loser
“Wertheimer was an unrelieved
emulator, he emulated anybody he thought was better off than he was”