Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Signifiers in Clockwork Angels

In Lea Hernandez’s book, Clockwork Angels, there are several signifiers, including the necklace worn by one of the protagonists, Temperance Bane. Temperance wears a locket shaped like an insect that resembles a cicada. A cicada is an insect that molts its shell occasionally and emerges from the dull, dead case with a fresh, glittering shell. Inside Temperance’s locket are pictures of her and her father, who she does not initially realize is Stuart Parrish, a man who is just as evil as her mother and who is connected with the villain Sacerdote. Temperance undergoes a cicada-like transformation and rebirth in this book. She separates herself from her father and her mother by following her Uncle Jules Bane’s advice and giving herself up to love for Amelia. The cicada image is prominent in the sequence in which Amelia and Temperance have sex and the doves symbolically fly off the roof of the house. Temperance and Amelia are freed in this book, just as a cicada is freed from its dead shell. The cicada signifies rebirth and Temperance is given a chance at lifelong love when Milly gives Amelia her heart. Similarly, Milly and Amelia are both reborn when they sprout wings and transform into their true form as angels.

Another signifier in Clockwork Angels is thoughts of the dead. Temperance Bane possesses a talent for “necrometry,” which is the ability to read the dead. This talent is exploited by her mother and Temperance resolves not to read the dead anymore, until her skill is needed by her uncle to solve a mysterious murder case. Temperance agrees to do a reading, and she realizes that she is only asked to read when people need to have a suspicion confirmed. She says, “Most people that came to me already knew the answers to their questions.” Temperance is able to read the final thoughts of the dead. This suggests that humans are signified by their thoughts. The female characters in this book are not easily distinguishable; their features are very similar. This is to further expound the point that humans are not signified by their outward form, but by their inner thoughts. Sacerdote appears to be human, but he is not because his thoughts are not human; he is a monster. Amelia is not fully human, but she becomes human at the end of the book through the reciprocation and recognition of love by Temperance. Humans are signified by their thoughts and emotions, not by their outward appearance.

Hernandez’s suggestion that humans are signified by their thoughts and emotions relates to Levinas’s exploration of the human face. He encouraged people to look past the individual features of the face and to listen to what comes from the mouth of the speaker. Speech is thought verbalized; thus, Levinas and Hernandez are making the same point. The human being is signified by thoughts and emotions, even if these are not tangible or readily seen.

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