he Chaîne des Puys-Limagne Fault has been a geological World Heritage site since 2019. This tectonic arena, or geological extension fracture, resulted in underwater collapse and residual sedimentary rock progressively formed a fertile plain.
A geological fault line is defined as a break in the earth’s crust. More broadly speaking, that which is related to displacement, divide, split, slippage, rupture or fracture may lead to an irrevocable end, or to closure. Thus, if plate tectonics within a fault zone generate extreme slippage and displacement, disaster may strike. Conversely, ontological regeneration is also practicable when these unstable sites are rich in natural resources (mines, hot springs). In this case, society learns to explore these naturally liminal spaces.
In Literature, fault lines necessarily evoke the tragic flaws, or weak points, of heroes, those for example of King Lear or Othello, of Victor Frankenstein, of Childe Harold (Lord Byron) or Captain Achab in Moby Dick. This inherent ambivalence in characterisation is symbolic of the slippage between the one and the same, faultless and fallible hero. Literary representations of the breach between appearances and reality though are many—“I am not what I am” affirms Iago in Othello. The gulf between fallible human nature and God’s grandeur (Paradise Lost), extending to the attendant split personalities and internal divisions of common mortals, are all constitutive elements of what may be termed the fault zone. In this context, a discussion of the openings of novels, which all operate a form of fracture or displacement, is of particular interest when the narrative builds on breaks in the narrator’s memory who then invents a past to better manipulate the reader. The concept of fault lines may very easily be taken up in psychoanalytical approaches which address mental illness, but it also engages with the necessity of filling a void where the work itself alerts us to its identity as fiction in, for example, Frankenstein. Ostensibly set in the eighteenth century, the characters quote from a poem written in 1816. The fault line understood as a rupture may be conceptually transposed to a consideration of material gaps within the text: what function may be allotted to lines of separation between paragraphs in fiction, or between verses in poems? Might these be reduced to a simple question of form, or do they figure separations, intervals, markers of growing tension, which ultimately result in upsurge and eruption? Fault lines also invite discussion of the shortcomings of particular texts and works of fiction: are there for example good or bad in-quartos of Shakespearean plays, based on particularly unstable texts? Virginia Woolf, though herself heavily criticized by contemporaries, was nevertheless ruthless when it came to chastising Charlotte Brontë for allowing personal frustration and anger to permeate her work. Furthermore, an unexpected ending may sometimes be considered as a qualitative breach. There is much debate on the rather enigmatic and controversial conclusion to Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Two further examples might be the improbable endings of Roxana of Sense and Sensibility.
There are though, of course, instances of author-driven “faulty” endings. Fault Lines by Nancy Huston engages with this concerted, deliberate focus on induced gaps. The translation into French of Huston’s work, Lignes de Faille, also clearly leads to a consideration of the issues which arise in Translation Studies. Should a translation bridge gaps and correct putatively averred weak points? Does the target text generate parallel slippages? How are the fault lines in the original reproduced in the translation without being construed as glaring mistakes? In addition, gaps within what Lyotard labels “master narratives” are evocative of epistemological fault lines and of the yawning fractures in the teleological understanding of history. These wide-ranging, generalised approaches may be adapted to close studies of individual works based on scrutiny of postmodern displacement and interpolation of fissured and/or invented tradition. In line with Jean-Loup Bourget’s conceptual focus on norms and margins, Film Studies may work these approaches into an exploration of shifts or breaks in conventional aesthetics which have punctuated the history of cinema, from New Wave to New Hollywood.
With reference to Paul Ricoeur’s La Mémoire, l’histoire, l’oubli (2000), memory lapses, slippages in memorialisation and remembering trauma, are all themes which operate along fault lines and hairline cracks in history and its making. Similarly, the geological fault as a weak point or danger zone, enabling potential collapse, serves as a metaphor allowing insights into not what constitutes the effective or efficient dynamics of politics, war or diplomacy, but rather, what generates failure. What underlying instabilities condemned the marriage of the Prince of Wales and the Infante of Spain to failure, at the beginning of the seventeenth century? What movements and slippages continuously undermined the Northern Ireland peace process until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement? What drives resounding political U-turns which come about after strikes or demonstrations and previously truncated attempts at modifying policy positions? The Brexit referendum is of course of great interest here. What divides undermine putatively firm policy positions? What weaknesses dislocate seemingly certain victories? What fissures explain the collapse of apparently reasoned and coherent economic policy? With reference to state and religion, discussions of the concept of sin, original, mortal, carnal, are productive where moral fractures cause upheaval and displacement. A case in point is The Book of Common Prayer, where this notion figures prominently. At the intersection of Church and State, the Civil War figures a profound national divide, which again in the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and 1859, is represented as the King’s people having acted together, causing such a rupture.
Furthermore, how politicians prey upon social fractures is also significant. British, Australian and American modern-day populist movements indiscriminately target social divides which emerge in public debate on, for example, migrant crises, gender equality, ethnic and sexual minorities. The fault zone is consistently characterised by divides which engender seemingly insurmountable oppositions. Eighteenth-century socio-political rifts were rooted in the absence of political and religious rights for the have-nots. Disraeli’s two-nation abyss as it operates in Sybil, or the Two Nations (1845) allowed British Conservatives to engage interventionist policy in the half-century of laissez-faire between 1840 and 1900. It was these socio-economic breaches which prompted the Liberals, and later Atlee’s Labour party (1945-1951), to foster attempts at bridging the gaps and nurturing national cohesion by constructing the Welfare State. Margaret Thatcher though centred discursive onus on the underclass, the undeserving poor, and meritocracy. In U.S. politics since the 1990s, there is a fault line running between Republicans and Democrats that has created what can be seen as a constitutional crisis since the U.S. Constitution requires comity (willingness to negotiate and compromise) to function properly. While political opposition is a normal part of the system, party obstructionism to this degree has not been seen since the pre-Civil War 1850s. Fault lines thus divide cultures, societies, social groups, citizens, political parties, ideologies and even nations. These societal fractures are exponential in form and content when investigating the nature of fissured and fragmented societies.
Linguistics uses lexical and morphological units, syntactic and prosodic schemas in correlation with specific effects of meaning. When considered as fractures, the flaws may first and foremost be explored through the breaks in prototypical syntactic chains: different information-packaging constructions such as cleft and pseudo-cleft structures, dislocations, extraposition of clausal subjects and/or clausal objects are possible examples. When regarded as ruptures, there is displacement of some constituent situated outside prototypical positions, hence foregrounding terms like “focalization” or “topicalization” in the overall analysis. Syntactic discontinuities or grammatical omissions such as ellipses, where some normally obligatory element of a grammatical sentence is missing and is considered recoverable through the surrounding linguistic units, may also be considered instances of breaks. But in some cases, ellipsis makes it difficult to make up for the missing constituents of grammatical sentences, which then become hard to understand. Addressing these gaps means questioning what can be perceived as (a) missing element(s) in a grammatical structure liable to be filled through deployment of various strategies. When understood as some ideal presence, this notion of missing units can apply to constructions and phenomena from which zero elements can be singled out. Hence, missing determiners before a countable noun, or some missing object item after a transitive verb, will imply interpretative schemes which consist in making up for the missing element that should have been present initially.
Acoustic and prosodic occurrences in Phonetics and in Phonology also interrogate the concept of fault lines where phenomena of rupture of spoken speech through silence or hesitations are specific examples. Paradoxically, these ruptures play an opposite role in the definition of prosodic units or intonational periods: a silence of a certain length will indicate the end of a unit, while a rupture treated as hesitation will be interpreted as a desire to continue the ongoing intonational period. Faults are also cracks on a surface which may or may not be perceived. Utterances, being precisely made up of linguistic units and alternatively punctuated with pauses, formulate a message for the interlocutor to interpret. The interpretative relief of the utterance will allow participants to explore faults from a semantic and pragmatic point of view, and to question the notions of presupposition and implicature. More generally, there could be a focus on all the cases which make use of the hearer’s inferential system, when she or he is faced with misunderstanding, with what is unheard, ambiguous or unsaid, thereby placing the hearer at the centre of a process of semantic reconstruction. Finally, from a metalinguistic point of view, faults can be understood as weak points. Much research in Linguistics is framed by theoretical approaches which all rely on axioms, irreducible principles whose refutation would lead to the invalidation of the theory itself. The theoretical flaws thus created constitute discussion points. Additionally, most theoretical approaches in Linguistics arose from inductive study of a specific phenomenon, before application of ensuing principles to other phenomena. Thus, Gustave Guillaume first studied articles in French before extending his theoretical toolset to other domains; construction grammars emerged from the study of certain syntactic patterns; and Optimality Theory first focused on phonology before it was applied to other domains such as morphosyntax.
Researchers in Specialized or Technical English may focus on various occupational contexts and on the features of specialized discourse which resist attempts at characterisation. Fault zones can also be understood as areas where different domains or different methodologies meet: this is the case for ethnographic approaches, which come to support more classical frameworks, rooted in the analysis of specialised discourses, or corpus linguistics. In the field of English for Specific Purposes, a focus on possible dips and breaks in student motivation and commitment, and on how possible institutional disregard reinforces these weaknesses, may prove fruitful.
In the Education Sciences, these breaks within the fault zone may be considered with reference to the variously weighted and perhaps irreconcilable differentiations between the recognition of formal and informal learning processes where the latter require better acknowledgment. How may distance and on-site education principles generate the potentialities of hybrid practice to enhance learning outcomes on both sides of what remains a divide? Other areas of interest involve probing the digital divide, and the virtual and material reach of communication and information technologies.
Last modified 7 October 2021