Sunday, October 03, 2004

Kristeva, ambivalence and dream logic

Although both Kristeva and Derrida were published in their earlier years as writers for Tel Quel, Kristeva was both slightly younger and more involved with the group (she not only served on the editorial board from 1970 until 1983, and continued to be published by the review for some time, but also eventually married its editor Phillip Sollers). Derrida and Tel Quel, on the other hand, experienced a complicated parting of ways.
When she arrived in Paris in 1966 at the age of 25, Kristeva brought with her from Bulgaria an unusual mixture of radical Hegelianism, Marxism and Russian Formalism -- and particularly a less filtered knowledge of that thinker who represents the Formalists’ single greatest inheritor (friend and enemy), Mikhail Bakhtin, in whose Russian she was fluent. Perhaps the most significant influence on Kristeva’s thought once she arrived in Paris was that of Jacques Lacan and his certain transformative interpretation of Freud. Although her relationship to “feminism” is extremely complex, her most intimate teacher, Roland Barthes, perhaps agreed with Kristeva’s own affirmation of her essential foreignness, as a woman, to her chosen theoretical project: “It was perhaps also necessary to be a woman to attempt to take up that exorbitant wager of carrying the rational project to the outer borders of the signifying venture of men” (Desire in Language, x).
- (about the only paragraph worth exerpting from a 22-page paper I once wrote)

A potent question:
What is the time-scale that you belong to? What is the time that you speak from? In the modern world, you might catch an impression of the medieval Inquisition from a nationalist dictator who soon finished spreading the message of integration. (I refer to the Gulf War.) Then you might be rejuvenated by 150 or 200 years by a Victorian president whose stiff, puritanical attitudes belong to the great age of the Protestant conquest of the New World, tempered by an eighteenth-century regard for human rights. But you are also an onlooker, even if you are not a participant, when people demonstrate their regression to infancy through civil violence, as in the recent events in Los Angeles; you witness the futurist breakthroughs of new musical forms like rap, without for a moment forgetting the wise explanatory discourses with which the newpapers and the universities try to explain this sort of thing. Newspapers and universities, by the way, continuing their role of transmitting and handing down knowledge, also belong to totally different time-scales. Yes, we live in a dislocated chronology, and there is as yet no concept that will make sense of this modern, dislocated experience of temporality

-Julia Kristeva, Proust and the Sense of Time

Kristeva does sound a bit comical now, in her sweeping exuberance. But she is hardly the first. And she remains, along with Derrida, one of the greatest readers of Bakhtin. The Russian Formalists remain vastly underappreciated, in my opinion. The caustic exchanges between Trotsky and the Formalists, for instance, remain relevant on many levels. But for the moment, staying with Kristeva:

The term 'ambivalence' implies the insertion of history (society) into a text and of this text into history; for the writer, they are one and the same. When he speaks of 'two pathes merging within the narrative', Bakhtin considers writing as a reading of the anterior literary corpus and the text as an absorption of and a reply to another text. He studies the polyphonic novel as an absorption of the carnival and the monological novel as a stifling of this literary structure, which he calls 'Menippean' because of its dialogism. In this perspective, a text cannot be grasped through linguistics alone. Bakhtin postulates the necessity for what he calls a translinguistic science, which, developed on the basis of language's dialogism, would enable uss to undertand intertextual relationships; relationships that the nineteenth century labelled 'social value' or literature's moral 'message'. Lautréamont wanted to write so that he could submit himself to a high morality. Within his practice, this morality is actualized as textual ambivalence: The Songs of Maldoror and the Poems are a constant dialogue with the preceding literary corpus, a perpetual challenge of past writing. Dialogue and ambivalence are borne out as the only approach that permits the writer to enter history by espousing an ambivalent ethics: negation as affirmation.

Dialogue and ambivalence lead me to conclude that, within the interior space of the text as well as within the space of texts, poetic language is a 'double.' Saussure's poetic paragram ('Anagrams') extends from zero to two: the unit 'one' (definition, 'truth') does not exist in this field.
Within this 'power of the coninuum' from 0 to a specifically poetic double, the linguistic, psychic and social 'prohibition' is 1 (God, Law, Definition). The only linguistic practice to 'escape' this prohibition is poetic discourse. It is no accident that the shortcomings of Aristotelian logic when applied to language were pointed out by, on the one hand, twentieth-century Chinese philosopher Chang Tung-Sun (the product of a different linguistic heritage - ideograms - where, in place of God, there extends the Yin-Yang 'dialogue') and, on the other, Bakhtin (who attempted to go beyond the Formalists through a dynamic theorization accomplished in revolutionary society). With Bakhtin, who assimilates narrative discourse into epic discourse, narrative is a prohibition, a monologism, a subordination of the code to 1, to God. Hence, the epic is religious and theological; all 'realist' narrative obeying 0-1 logic is dogmatic. The realist novel, which Bakhtin calls monological (Tolstoy), tends to evolve within this space. Realist description, definition of 'personality', 'character' creation and 'subject' development - all are descriptive narrative elements belonging to teh 0-1 interval and are thus monological. The only discourse integrally to achieve the 0-2 poetic logic is that of the carnival. By adopting a dream logic, it transgresses rules of liguistic code and social morality as well.

-Kristeva, "Word, Dialogue and Novel"

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