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Nights At the Circus: Reading The Semiotics of A Title

Written by eastern writer on Wednesday, November 28, 2007

by Saleh Razzouk

This is a reflection on : Nights At The Circus , Novel by Angela Carter , 295p.,
Cover desighned by : Dominic Davies, Vintage Books , UK.

If the title is not the cork-plug of the text, is informative, and the whole piece must be oriented in, moreover focused on it. It is the first utterance of the narrative space. After we drop the auxiliaries, we get there with only two big items : Nights ( plural ), and Circus ( singular ), where the first letter of each appears to oppose the other, rather negate it.

phonetics proves that :

S = voiceless - affricates - continuant - strident - tense

N= voiced - nasal - sonorant

only the consonantal, anterior and coronal features put both initials in one chain.
Two of these distinctive features, which bind the two entries, are spatial ; all the others posses temporal orientation. So that what keeps the sides of the title apart is changeable or fading with time, while what binds them is, no doubt, irreducible; and the whole weight of the theme, that prevails in the form of complex fixation and ill tempered views, deeply stamped, if not coined, with phallic value, which is literally a space element.

It is another upheaval that maintains horror and opposition between space as such and time as a signifier in a series, which lacks attachment, but can not attain signified value unless comes to terms with what it lacks. In this way, Angela Carter pressed on with her myth or epic.

The value of sound ( voice in phonetics ) is sustained once again in the first ever line of the text, which began with :
“ Lor’ love you, sir!” Fevvers sang out in a voice that clanged like dustbin lids “. and followed with the self narration :
“ As to my place of birth, why, I first saw light of day right here in smoky old London, didn’t I ! “ .[ p. 7 ] .

The opening statements are, in fact, intertwined with the title, so that both elements construct a conversation that reassure the valuable and remarkable coherence between the temporal act of the title ( first lexical item of the narrative space ), and the spatial value ( place of birth , which is the second item of the very same narration ).

The semantic value of the title is some how short sighted, for meanings of the meaning do not go far enough as semiotics do. in semiotics the two major words may swap places, so as to re-pose “circus” in the first place ( in the body of the text ), then “night” to follow . That is “circus” ( as Oxford dictionary states ) is - in ancient Rome - round or oval place with seats on all sides for public games, but ( in modern usage ) is a travelling show, ultimately ( as a proper name ) is an open space where number of streets converge . Then, it is ( in short ) a circle or a circular space, i.e. a ring, the position of desire, which could be oral or anal or sexual . It is really of multiple value that bring the subject about the oedipal triangle, keeping in mind that the desired is alienated from the desire itself, since playful acts are awakened and noticeable. while “Night” ( in Oxford as well ) is two sided expression :

a- dark hours which assure the temporal value as such,
b- an object which lacks the sense of period. But when after leaving out the last letter, the “ nigh” entry indicates ‘ near to’ . i.e. a distance, place.

The multiplicity of the word “ night” brings to mind the fact that it is plural with ( s ) at the end, which indicate a repetition of experience, and this again pursue the double value ( place and time, or object and subject ).

The traditions, however, of the text are not extracted from Hardy’s, nor are recovered in Dickens’s; rather are committed themselves in Poe’s deep structure., where horror and visions replace the sight and the visible world altogether.

Horror, then, looks like the cause behind pushing what is inside ( the psychological depth and thinkable power ) towards the lines of light, where the familiar shapes are doubled with a shadowy presence initiates in the intimate perception, so that mental process drives the contents into an outsider stand, or a little other ( in Lacan’s terms ), which can be explained as follows :

Self <> Outsider

being <> other

verb to be<> fragmentation

The figure demonstrates the notion of fragmentation of the structural intactness.
Wars, crimes, sexual offence and sexual acts on their own are the semiotic elongations in every assault against the circularity ( or the ring, the vagina...) of our orbit ( complete structure ).
Similarly, the title submits this hypothesis, where the entry “ circus” when is coupled with its counterpart “ nights” bring together danger ( horror ) and playful action ( estrangement). It is a declaration of the ultimate divorce or end-breakage between reality and fantasy, or the real and the imaginary, where the real subject is aware of the estrangement and un-expounded entity of the ever-deep and long-last stage he stood on.

Angela Carter:

was born in 1940, and from 1976 – 8 was fellow in creative writing at Sheffield University. Her first novel , Shadow Dance, was published in 1965. she is a feminist writer with a sense of Cruelty as adopted by Artaud.

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