Hogle, The Undergrounds of The Phantom
of the Opera: Sublimation and the Gothic in Leroux's Novel and Its Progeny.
New York: Palgrave, 2002. xv
+ 261pp. $69.95. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-29346-1).
Bibliographic Citation: Bruhm, Steven.
"On Jerrold E. Hogle's The Undergrounds of The Phantom of the
Opera: Sublimation and the Gothic in Leroux's Novel and Its Progeny."
[date of access]. Romantic Circles Reviews
7.2 (2004): 7 pars. 19 Apr. 2004. <http://www.rc.umd.edu/reviews/hogle.html>.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
A Note on Translations
Part 1: The Novel: Leroux's Distinctive Choices and Their Wider Contexts
1. The Original Fantôme's Mysteries:
2. The Psychoanalytic Veneer in the Novel: Le Fantôme's
"Unconscious Depths" and their Social Foundations
3. Leroux's Sublimations of Cultural Politics: From Degeneration and the
Suppression of Carnival to the Abjection of Mixed "Otherness"
4. The Ghost of the Counterfeit: Leroux's Fantôme
and the Cultural Work of the Gothic
Part 2: The Major Adaptations: Neo-Gothic Sublimations of Changing
5. Universal's Silent Film: The Recast Scapegoat, the Quest for the Widest
Audience, and the Management of Labor
6. The 1943 Remake: Recombining Film Styles, Struggling with Psychoanalysis,
and Sanitizing World War II
7. The Culture of Adolescence: The Lloyd Webber Musical and the Adaptations
that Paved the Way, 1962-1986
8. Different Phantoms for Different Problems: Some Adaptations
Since the Musical
Epilogue: The Phantom's Lasting Significance: An Assessment
of Its Cultural Functions
- What accounts for the continuities and the discontinuities
in the history of this shifting but ongoing phenomenon?," Jerrold
Hogle asks of The Phantom of the Opera (xi). "What
'cultural work'what symbolic shaping of the way we think in the
Westdoes The Phantom of the Opera keep doing for us in
its original form and in the wider variations on it?" (xi).
Beginning with these questions, Hogle gives us a subtle, nuanced, and
lucid excavation of the social and psychological undergrounds that Leroux's
Erik and his "progeny" throughout the twentieth century inhabit.
These undergrounds, Hogle argues, "turn out to be deep-seated anomalies
in Western European lifecrossings of boundaries between class,
racial, gender, and other distinctionsthat are quite basic to,
but commonly shunted off as 'other' than, the social and individual
construction of a rise middle-class 'identity'" (xii). Put
another way, the Phantoms are "sublimations" of cultural anxieties,
displaced into a monstrously other figure yet resonant and legible as
that which white Western culture needs to solidify its sense of itself
as a developed and healthy people.
- What follows from this hypothesis is a remarkable exercise in
new historicist criticism. Hogle devotes the first half of the
book to historicizing Leroux's original novel of 1910, establishing
its ghostly precursors in the Romantic Gothic as well as the cultural
politics of Paris in the late nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries.
He emphasizes the history and architecture of the Paris Opera House,
shooting this history through with reflections on the role of carnival
in nineteenth-century France, the recurrence of the danse macabre
in French art history, and the rise of psychology, sexology, and most
particularly, psychoanalysis as a group of "human sciences"
that configure the "human" at the fin de siècle.
By placing Leroux's Erik within and against these discourseswhere
the Phantom produces another set of the continuities and discontinuities
I noted aboveHogle demarcates a truly overdetermined figure who
registers the fantasies and fears of a burgeoning middle class.
Erik comes not just to represent but to embody and perform transgressions
of boundaries regarding class, gender, sexuality, place, and episteme.
Most importantly, Erik foregrounds what has now become Hogle's oft-cited
"ghost of the counterfeit," a proto-modernist signifier that
points to nothing but other signifiers, thus opening up a gothic abyss
of meaning at its center. (More on this in a moment.) Yet,
unlike so many other new historicist studies, Hogle is always careful
not to claim too much or to let his enthusiasm for Erik's disruptiveness
run away with him. He repeatedly reminds us that while the novel
may present myriad threats to the stability of bourgeois identity, it
"also finds ways, especially in its manner of reportage,
to settle and seem to contain" these threats through self-conscious
fictionality (36). As Hogle says, "the original phantom is
an announcement of these anomalies [of middle-class ontology] in a way
that makes them 'safe'" (75).
- The second half of the book exports this pointedly French figure
into the cultural politics and practices of twentieth-century Anglo-American
phantomizing. (And the degree to which the book leaves behind
twentieth-century France is quite startling. After the painstaking
historicizing of its first half, Hogle's study leaves me wondering what
sort of progeny France itself has bred.) Hogle takes us from the
first film adaptation, the 192425 silent film starring Lon Cheney,
through the 1943 remake, versions of the tale in the 1960s and 70s,
and into the famous 1986 musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Throughout
this half of the book Hogle again demonstrates his acumen in what is
surely the book's greatest strength: an analysis of the politics of
simulacra, whether that politics is located in the rise of industrial
capitalism in the film industry (a phenomenon crucial to the 1925 film),
Hollywood's reinvention of stage opera during the Second World War when
only the most tired chestnuts could be imported from war-torn Europe
(a difficulty that is central to the 1943 remake), Roe vs. Wade
and the abortion debate in America (crucial for understanding the near-aborted
title character in the 1987 Phantom), queer visibility and celebrity
as they come to inform Michael Jackson's Ghosts (1996), and so
on. In each case Hogle analyzes deftly how revisions to the early
Leroux novel effectively mute (but do not silence) fundamental anxieties
regarding middle-class life and entertainment, thus engaging The
Phantom of the Opera and its audiences in a repetition compulsion
that operatically proclaims its centrality as one of our dominant fictions.
- While The Undergrounds is unabashedly materialist in its
analysis, Hogle is particularly interested in what he calls the "psychoanalytic
veneer" that envelops the novel and its filmic revisions through
the twentieth century. After all, you don't need to be Freud to
wonder about the psychological significance of a malign "underground"
force who draws his decorating scheme from his mother's bedroomand
its proximity to her death chamberso that he (Erik) can seduce
a maternally suggestive and socially proper young woman into its corrupting
orbit; nor about this virginal young woman who finds herself attracted
to Erik because he reminds her of her own father. Hogle wants
to take these psychoanalytic moments seriously and to use them as the
central sub-argument of his book. Hence the psychologically inflected
question that runs throughout this study: "What
are the cultural
or even political imperatives in the virtually simultaneous rise and
development of psychoanalysis and The Phantom of the Opera in
Western thinking, especially in Europe around the turn of the nineteenth
into the twentieth century? What ideological and social purposes
are served by both the psychoanalytic scheme and its use in Leroux's
- Historicizing the psychoanalytic in The Phantom offers
Hogle his richest opportunity for elaborating a theory of gothic "sublimation,"
a term crucial to his subtitle. He centers on concepts such as
"tender" (32 ff) and "debt" (115), drawing their
emotional and affective connotations into their financial ones.
By emphasizing the "debt" which the Paris Opera owes to the
very forces it abjectsincluding the maternal, the low-class, the
racially otherHogle spins the site of the Opera and its phantasmatic
inhabitant through Jean Baudrillard's theory of sublimation, in which
the Freudian concept of sublimating desire melds with Baudrillard's
post-structuralist theory of simulation. Simulation, the ubiquitous
fact of counterfeit tender and empty signification, becomes the spectacle
of repression's return (and here "repression" must be considered
in both its social and its psychological aspects). What Hogle
produces from this monstrous marriage is a theory that extends far beyond
The Phantom of the Opera and its progeny and into the gothicisim
of (post)modernity itself. As Hogle's own debts to Kristeva, Lacan,
and Zízek make clear, Erik and his sons are avatars that allegorize
the impossibility of subjectivity as it is constructedand deconstructedwithin
capitalist models of exchange.
- Readers of a certain bent may find themselves resisting Hogle
in his relentless subordinating (sublimating?) of psychoanalysis to
social materialism. For example, let's consider the status that
"family" holds in Leroux's Phantom. Hogle smartly argues
that the desired closeness between Christine and her father is the desire
for a return to the pastoral, a pre-industrial France nostalgically
invented by these post-Romantic visionaries. Such a move is symptomatic
of the book's overall take on psychoanalysis: "Leroux's Fantôme
. . . employs psychoanalytic motifs especially about father-daughter
and mother-son relationships . . . but the novel does so in a way that
reveals such notions as consequences of the cultural and ideological
construction of the bourgeois family" (16061). This
is no doubt true, and such a constructionism aligns the novel with its
Romantic precursors in convincing ways, but it does not explain why
Christine and her father should want that closeness in the first place,
why they need to imagine a space that will permit it. In
other words, it does not explain the intensity of father-daughter desire
that grounds its bourgeois fantasies. We could bring the same
questions to Erik and his absent motherindeed, Hogle often does,
in his drawing on Kristeva as a primary theoretical model. One
might easily argue here that the more oedipal desires between father
and daughter or mother and son precede the fantasized social space (Christine's
Eden, Erik's bedroom) that will allow those desires to be realized,
rather than the other way around. Thus, when Hogle warns us against
taking the energies of the novel "in a narrowly Freudian direction
. . . if the reader chooses to stay at a 'mental' or just 'familiar'
level" (100), we might push harder on what that "just 'familiar'"
might be made to mean in this narrative.
- While one might want to quibble with the psychoanalytic temporalities
as they are represented in Leroux's novel, Hogle's study capitalizes
on all those psychoanalytically based desires in his study of Leroux's
progeny. Indeed, the book is brilliant in its suturing of the
material and the psychological at particularly moments in twentieth-century
Anglo-American history. In this way The Undergrounds of The
Phantom of the Opera will be important not only as the definitive analysis
of the cultural phenomenon that just won't seem to die, but as a model
for scholars and students on the sophisticated ways that psychoanalysis
can be historicized and history can be psychoanalyzed.
Published 19 April 2004; last Updated 25 June 2004.