What Use Does Lodge Make Of Intertexuality In ‘Nice Work’?

When answering this question, it should be pointed out that intertextuality as it is commonly understood as a critical theory is little thought as a device which a person can adopt to his or her advantage. Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida, two of its key pioneers, held that intertexuality is something from which a writer cannot escape. Derrida pointed out that ‘language is not a function of the speaking subject’, that this implied ‘the subject is inscribed in the language’. In other words as Barthes and Nietzsche were fond of asserting, we are the function of language. Or, everything which we do, or say, or write, is merely the product of a consciousness unconsciously regurgitating the language, culture and history of previous generations in infinitely tangled and reused phrases and turns of speech. Therefore, if Lodge embraces this linguistic philosophy, he cannot be ‘making use’ of it, but rather, write more receptively and sensitively to the use it makes of him.

Much depends on one’s own interpretation of intertextuality – and how extreme a version they ascribe to. Barthes believed outright in a rhetorical concept he described as ‘The Death of the Author’, whereby the literary text is entirely independent of everything else. It exists outside and free of anything the author might have intended for the work. This seems drastic but the logic is sound – writing and speaking becomes the re-positing of signs which have no intrinsic meaning, and cannot forge meaning for the author. As Robyn’s boyfriend Charles argues: ‘the signifiers and the signified. are not on the same level, and man only deludes himself when he believes that his true place is at their axis which is nowhere’. All a text does is illuminate the rather bleak notion that we cannot say what we intend to say and we cannot say anything that has not already been said. With this in mind we may first consider the overall structure and context of Lodge’s novel. Lodge’s influences are expansive. He seems to revel in them. Rather than secrete them all in the text and preserve a defense of originality he flaunts many of his citations and inspirations flagrantly throughout. The book has undeniable associations with the industrial novels of Robyn’s own critical work. The unusual fascination which grows between the mismatched Robyn and Vic paraphrases the relationship between Margaret and Thornton in Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘North and South’ and the draconian conditions of Vic’s factory floor smacks of Gradgrind’s cotton mill in ‘Hard Time’s’. Of course this is quite clear to Lodge who acknowledges both authors with a relevant quotation at the start of parts 2, 3, 4 and 5. The overall sentiment and effect of using these two Victorian industrial novels so intimately to define the plot and indeed define the values and aspirations of the characters, seems to be the significance of literature and life as self-perpetuating mutually dependent concepts – language continually giving birth to new forms of language. Lodge often draws the reader’s attention to a perceived connection between capitalism and writing, between novels and the products churned off a factory line. Robyn believes, he tells us, that ‘that the triumph of the literary genres in the nineteenth century coincided with the triumph of capitalism; and that the modernist and postmodernist deconstruction of the novel in the twentieth century coincided with the terminal crisis of capitalism’. Writing and mass production are inextricably linked in metaphor.

Lodge’s novel takes as its basis no single consistent structure or formula of writing. For many it could seem like one is reading a collection of snippets and extracts arranged in no obvious chronological order. Lodge uses selective editing to jump from one story to another, often without due warning or notice. For instance, the first part of the novel is written entirely in the present tense, following first Vic, then Robyn through a typical working day – practically in real time. But the following four parts of the novel are written in the past perfect tense. The systematic and simple narrative technique of part 1 is resigned for often very complex or unpredictable shifts in perspective, time and character. For instance in part two, Lodge switches spasmodically between Vic’s deliberations at the factory and Robyn’s lecture as addressed to her students and delivered in its entirety. In part 5 of the novel perspective switches from Robyn gossiping with Penny Black about her affair with Vic, and actual, objective narration of their affair. The impression of authorial presence in the novel also shifts. Lodge uses many personal pronouns early on, even on one occasion referring to his own position and task as author stating that Robyn is ‘a character who rather awkwardly for me, doesn’t believe in the concept of character’ – a comment which seems paradoxical or ironic, because Lodge is in effect admitting that Robyn is at once both real and created. Lodge’s authority in the novel becomes less and less direct as convention is jettisoned and different perspectives repress the narration.

The structure, style and perspectives of Lodge’s novel are indicative of the function of intertexuality because it exhibits the eclecticism of the intertextual argument – that all language is borrowed. Perspective and structure dissipating and authorial presence dissolving illustrates that tenet of intertexuality – ‘the death of the author’, where intention is replaced simply by text itself. The novel is the product of language as it determines the story and not Lodge.

The best manifestations of intertexuality are unsurprisingly at a close textual level. A common example is the repetition of words and phrases used at previous occasions as though a person’s everyday discourse is defined by their vocabulary and a way a person behaves and speaks is determined by the accumulation of literature and also new forms of media. TV, radio and advertising are treated by Lodge as equally significant in shaping people’s consciousnesses as the written word. In this sense he has coined a new intertexuality which works within a modern industrial and commercial age. To return to repetition, it may benefit if we look at some examples. For instance, Robyn presents Vic with a wider and more complex understanding of the theories of Freud. Previously, Vic’s entire conception of the wealth of Freud’s work was encapsulated by the simple all-encompassing phrase ‘Said everything came down to sex didn’t he?’ Robyn subsequently provides Vic with more of Freud’s own jargon – ‘the libido’, ‘the death instinct’ etc. Some fifty of so pages later in the novel we realise that this new language now contributes to Vic own thought processes when he explains to his wife: ‘ “Libido,” said Vic. “Freud invented it before he discovered the death instinct”.’ Lodge is showing that life is about the absorption and regurgitation of old literature and the very way a person behaves and thinks is shaped by the literature he or she has witnessed. Elsewhere in the novel there are more subtle incidences of the same idea. Rupert Sutcliffe’s communication of the silly proverb ‘forewarned is forearmed’ while tapping his nose as though he has imparted some invaluable knowledge is not lost on Robyn’s consciousness. She utters the same line as she warns Danny Ram of his impending unemployment. Examples are in fact almost endless, whether the reader spots them or not. Some are very subtle – we may or may not attribute Robyn’s unusual swear words ‘bum’ and ‘tit’ to the reams of soft-core porn she has just witnessed on the factory walls. Lodge’s characters grow in the novel as they absorb a different language. This may be what is so important about the relationship between Robyn and Vic – they come from entirely different backgrounds with their own language and set of jargon which is unidentifiable to the other. In each other’s company therefore they learn a different set of signs and symbols through which to view and experience the world.

Robyn invariably views the world through memories of works of literature she has studied. This can be seen given her experience of the Pringles Factory. It is an environment entirely alien to her and she must claim on her knowledge of literature to express it to herself. Lodge may be trying to illustrate that to come to terms with a thing, to truly understand it and arrange it within our experience and conception of the world; we must first find terms to express it. The terms we use, however are by necessity, not our own but those acquired and absorbed in the course of our experiences with culture, language and literature. So she uses D.H Lawrence’s lines to express industrial Rummidge – ‘The grey, gritty hopelessness of it all.’ As she steps onto the factory floor she feels ‘more than ever like Dante in the Inferno’. Other allusions are more subtle or where Lodge makes a passing reference or quotation without lending the reader the work and author. However, most people should recognize that where Robyn says ‘O Brave New World. where only the managing directors have jobs’ she is borrowing a phrase from Miranda as she contemplates the Milan she has never seen in the Tempest. Interestingly however, ‘Brave New World’ is also a book by Aldous Huxley about the horrors of advanced industrialization – an overdeveloped scientific and technological age. She is referring to them both simultaneously, thus where and what meaning is intended becomes blurred. When Robyn later describes Danny Ram as a ‘noble savage’ she is borrowing a phrase passed back and forth through centuries of literature and with a signified meaning that is similarly wide and uncertain. When she uses the phrase she is at once referring to the work of Dickens, and Rousseau, the characters of Caliban in ‘The Tempest’ or John in ‘Brave New World’ and so forth. This is the important aspect of the idea of intertextuality – that the language we use to express ourselves is never our own. Elsewhere Robyn talks about the ‘satanic mills of the Industrial Revolution’ which is an allusion to Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ and Lodge tells us that as the snow was general all over Rummidge, she mused, playing variations on a famous passage by James Joyce to divert herself’. The passage in question will certainly be the beautiful closing lines of the short story ‘The Dead’ from the Dubliners collection, but Lodge does not provide it here. Perhaps the author means to identify the simple truth that language is our key to understand feelings and if we do not have it we are excluded from them:

‘His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead’.

Categories: Prose


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