02 February 2010

MCT: Julia Kristeva

I was talking about Tel Quel, n'est-ce pas, and Kristeva, it turns out, was part of that group. She was and apparently still is married to Philippe Sollers. The extract in MCT dates from 1974 and is called "Linguistics and Ethics", a misleading title, since the main drive of the piece is about the way non-semantic features of poetry clash with the meaning. She seems to argue that this clash has profound consequences, embodying a fight between centralism and subversiveness.

As I understand it, the argument is that linguistics can't easily have an ethical dimension, precisely because of the weaknesses that Derrida (though he's not mentioned) identified in structural systems. So she says that faute de mieux (although she doesn't use that phrase) you must look at the way poetry escapes the confines of the structural analysis of language. So, you could see this as an alternative answer to Culler's finding that linguistics can't provide a poetics. Kristeva seems to be talking about poetics that isn't structuralist (if it was, it would be as vitiated as any other structuralist analysis). She uses the term 'semiotic' unhelpfully, since (according to Wikipedia) she means something quite different from what we understood by it previously. This short extract doesn't give more details of that, but here's an example of her using the term.
It follows that formulating the problem of linguistic ethics means, above all. compelling linguistics to change its object of study. The speech practice that should be its object is one in which signified structure (sign, syntax, signification) is defined with boundaries that can be shifted by the advent of a semiotic rhythm that no system of linguistic communication has yet been able to assimilate. (p 350, emphasis added)

She talks about how poetry uses features that differ from normal language. Taking as an example Mayakosky's poetry read by Roman Jakobson, she says his reading:
imitating their voices, with the lively, rhythmic accents, thrust out throat and filly militant tone of [Mayakovsky]; and the softly whispered words, sustained swishing and whistling sounds [of Khlebnikov]. (p 352)
It's a fairly passionate response, expressing some frustration at linguists' inability to share that passion, but I don't think anything else in the piece offers a real alternative. She discusses Mayakovsky further, identifying a theme of "the struggle between poet and sun", and seems to see his poetry as exemplifying the way that poetic semiotic is disruptive and subversive. I think there's a risk that her theory, so far as there is one, is too intimately tied to a specific historical period.

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