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The Writers Magazine of The

New Absurdist Movement

August 2009 , Issue 10


http://amr.obook.org

a note from the polycarp

Osip Mandelshtam

Absurdist News Front

The Anti-Art of Art

Pascal-Denis Lussier

Narratology (excerpt)

Lucie Guillemette

The Age of Abjection Urban Fairy Tales

Inna Semetsky
Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

Gregory Freidin

S. Bell

American Legacy

Kenneth J. Knoespel

a note from the polycarp


construct the deep, meaningful, glee
inducing, theory magazine that the
readers of AMR have come to expect.
Here it is. Its a bit thin and probably
not as well proofed as some previous
issues, but damn it Natalya Reshetovskaya, its here, its on time and its
packed chewy, theoretical goodness.

y stylish beard bids you all a


hardy welcome to this, the
10th issue of AMR. This is,
of course, the jinx issue. When AMR
came out in 2006, only 5 issues were
built and then ZIP, nothing for 2 long
years. Now this issue is the 5th issue of
AMRs return. Will it be the last for
another 2 years? Only fate and my
overly wide tie know the answer to
that. But my guess is there will be
plenty more coming in the future.
In fact, were adding staff faster
than you can (or should) actually add
people to a magazine for which they
are not paid: a regular columnist, a
news editor and a staff cartoonist have
all either arrived or will come on board
for issue #11.
This issue, I am sorry to say, has
experienced problem after trouble after
whatever comes directly after trouble.
Several articles that were lined up didnt pan out and Ive had to spend the
last week (with the help of David Metcalfe & PD Lussier) racing about to

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

This month weve pulled out a brief


biography of Acmeist poet Osip Mandelshtam, a quickie peek at Grard
Genette's theory of Narratology, TNA
veteran headsfromspace unveils his
Gaulkan Rider, columnist PD Lussier
gives a thrill-packed expos of Isidore
Isous Letterist movement, a fascinating look at Julia Kristevas semanalysis, cartoonist S. Bells first Urban
Fairy Tale lovingly entitled Paperhead
and we round off this month examining
the American Legacy of Mikhail Bakhtin. Now thats a whole lot joynuggets!
I want to thank the TNA & FB
groups who submitted original cover
artwork and voted to choose this
months cover, which by overwhelming
count went to Sverine Monis Duck
Girl. Applause all around!
Thats about it from me. Before I go
though, I would like to share a few
lines from a song that I believe speaks
directly to each of us as human beings:
If you wanna be my lover, you gotta
get with my friends,
Make it last forever, friendship
never ends
Until next time, cover your mouths
before you sneeze. Dont be Patient
Zero!
- polycarp kusch

Established 2006
Editor
polycarp kusch
Art Director
David Metcalfe
Columnist
Pascal-Denis Lussier
Cover Art
Sonja Jankov
Cancer Screenings
Dr. Oberon Mits
False Documents
John Smith
Fissionable Material
Provided by:
Jane Doe
Back Issues
available at:
http://amr.obook.org/
back_issues.php
Free Subscriptions
available at:
http://amr.obook.org/
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AMR needs your support
Help spread the word
however you can.

HAIRY
A P E .
Playing
as part
of
this
year's Buffalo
Infringement
Festival, and one
of 26 theatrical
productions to take
shape within this 11
-day
event,
it
shrewdly embodies
the fest's intentions: jagged,
scrappy, playful and unpredictable.

Absurdist
News
Front

opefully this is the last


month of thin and sadly
out-of-date news, as our
next issue will be constructed by our
fabulously new news editor, Dr.
Melissa Moler Beery. Until then,
bear with the horrifically old and the
marginally on point. Here is The
News.

The play, which opened Friday


night, is not as well known as other
O'Neill works (A MOON FOR THE
MISBEGOTTEN, LONG DAY'S
JOURNEY INTO NIGHT), likely
because of its chilly critique of the
upper classes and an unconventional
structure that begs for unusual treatment.

In the Theatre

Told in eight succinct scenes


in guttural, intense language, the
play follows the Neanderthal-like
Yank (commandingly played by
Patrick Cameron, who often literally throws himself into the proceedings), a brutish steelworker
prone to drinking bouts and selfdoubt. He wanders the earth trying to
find where he fits into
a capitalist society
that doesn't value
him. He is called a
"filthy beast" by a rich
society gal (Candice
Kogut), which enrages him, and his
poorly laid plans to
infiltrate rich society go bust when he
is arrested and eventually banished from
joining an industrial un-

'The Hairy Ape':


Scrappy, playful and
unpredictable.
By Jason Clark
Buffalo News Review
July 28, 2009
Moments before you walk into
the Manny Fried Playhouse for Subversive Theatre Collective's bold,
passionate and, in their
own words, "wildly
experimental perversion" of Eugene
O'Neill's THE HAIRY
APE, you are treated to a
literal circus.
Balloon animals, a peanut
vendor, puppeteers, a handwalker and even a man in a
monkey suit -- this is certainly not your father's

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

ion. This leaves him to seek solace in the arms of an ape at the
zoo in the play's chilling final
scene.
All in all, the production's
conceit ultimately pays off and is
acted with conviction by its 11member cast, which includes local fave Betsy Bittar as a haughty
socialite.
www.subversivetheatre.org.

Student production
will either entertain
or insult audience
By Sara Petersen
Kent State NewsNet
April 30, 2009
Low budget 'Ubu Roi' premieres
tonight.
"Ubu Roi," which opens tonight,
includes a drag queen teacher, people eating sausages from a man's
crotch and a woman proclaiming a
horse's ass is better than yours.
"Lab shows are usually edgier and
more controversial stuff that you
really wouldn't see on the mainstage
just because of the nature of the material," said Jason Leupold, sophomore musical theater major. He
plays Captain Mac'Nure in the play.
Rick Coffey, senior musical theater
major and director of "Ubu Roi,"
said the play is grotesque - but
funny.
"It insults the audience because they
don't know how to feel," he said.
French playwright Alfred Jarry
wrote "Ubu Roi" to premier in 1896.
"Shit" was the first word uttered in
the play and the audience rioted,

"I guarantee most of the people coming to this show have


not experienced anything
like it, but that's the nature
of Fringe Fest," Crowley
said. "It's really obscure."

shouting
insults and fighting.
"Nobody ever heard the word 'shit'
on stage before," Coffey said.
Coffey modified the play to a Catholic school setting."My adaptation is
about a man (Ubu) who is convinced
by his wife to kill the king and the
royal family," Coffey said. "Ubu
then kills all of the royal family except for one son, who seeks
help from the Russians and
eventually overthrows Ubu."
As Coffey thought about
adapting the characters from
the play, he found that they
all fell into a school stereotype, such as a bully, a nerd
and a secretary. "The play
itself is written in a very
childlike manner and
that's when I first started
thinking about 'Ubu' being set in a school," he
said.
"By setting it in a classroom, the
audience understands what is happening, but the interpretation is up
to them," Coffey said. "It gives (the
audience) a place that they're familiar with."The action is so abstract,
and the characters are so abstract
(that) if there's one thing that they
can cling onto as a part of their reality, it will kind of be a bridge to the
abstract world."

"I'm really excited to just


put it out there and see
how people will react because it's so different,"
Leupold said. "It'll be
really interesting to see what they
do."

Journaly Things
Cognitive Semiotics
#3 published!
Cognitive Semiotics #3 is now
available from publisher, Peter
Lang, and in its electronic form at
Metapress. It has been
aptly
titled
Semiotics as a
Cognitive Science and contains seven diverse and wideranging contributions by Elmar
Holenstein, Marcel
Hnaff,
Jesper
Srensen, Robert E.
Haskell, Claudio
Paolucci,
Svend
stergaard and Peter
Vuust & Andreas Roepstorff. Enjoy!

Many older English poems, particularly those written in Middle English


or written in The Renaissance, contain rhymes that were originally true
or full rhymes, but as read by modern readers they are now eye rhymes
because of shifts in pronunciation.

Example:
Young Dick, always eager to eat,
Denied stealing the fish eggs, whereat
Caning him for a liar,
His pa ate the caviar
And left Dickie digesting the caveat.
Other eye rhymes:
sew : blew
brow : crow
said : laid
their : weir
dough : rough
rouge : gouge
fiend : friend
hubris : debris
derange : orange
rugged : drugged
love : prove

Miscellany
Wheres Pt. 2?

Eye Rhyme

My apologies for the lack of a


conclusion on my last article Mind,
Noise & Proto-Prose. Software configuration problems combined with
a reevaluation of some fundamental
concepts involved in correctly structuring the grammars has left Part 2
of this beloved and yet unending
presentation without corporeal form.

Restricting the rhymes in a poem to


those that satisfy the eye but not the
ear.

I optimistically look forward to


completing the ideas for this project
within the next few issues. 

http://www.cognitivesemiotics.com/

Text Play

Eye rhyme is a similarity in spelling

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

between words that are pronounced


differently and hence, not an auditory rhyme. Some examples are
slaughter and laughter.

Mandelshtam, Osip Emilyevich


b. Jan. 3 [Jan. 15, New Style], 1891, Warsaw, Pol.,
Russian Empire [now in Poland]
d. Dec. 27, 1938, Vtoraya Rechka, near Vladivostok,
Russia, U.S.S.R. [now in Russia]

by Gregory Freidin

M
In response to
the early Futurist
manifestoes,
Mandelshtam,
together with
Nikolay Gumilyov,
Anna Akhmatova,
and Sergey
Gorodetsky
founded the
Acmeist school of
poetry, an attempt
at codifying the
poetic practice of
the new generation
of Petersburg
poets.

andelshtam also spelled MANDELSTAM, major Russian


poet, prose writer, and literary
essayist. Most of his works went unpublished in the Soviet Union during the Stalin era (1929-53) and were almost unknown to generations of Russian readers
until the mid-1960s.
Mandelshtam grew up in St. Petersburg in a middle class Jewish household;
his father was a well-off leather merchant, who abandoned rabbinical training
for a secular education in Germany; his
mother was a cultivated member of the
Russian Jewish intelligentsia.. After
graduating from the private elite Tenishev School in 1907 and an unsuccessful
attempt to join a socialist-revolutionary
terrorist organization, Mandelstam traveled to France to study at the Sorbonne
and later to Germany to enroll at the University of Heidelberg. After returning to
Russia in 1911, he converted to Christianity (baptized by the Finnish Methodists) and, thus exempted from the Jewish
quota, went on to study at the University
of St. Petersburg, He left it in 1915 before receiving a degree...

His first poems appeared in the St.


Petersburg journal Apollon ("Apollo") in
1910. In response to the early Futurist
manifestoes, Mandelshtam, together with
Nikolay Gumilyov, Anna Akhmatova,

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

and Sergey Gorodetsky founded the


Acmeist school of poetry, an attempt at
codifying the poetic practice of the new
generation of Petersburg poets. They rejected the vague mysticism of Russian
Symbolism and demanded clarity and
concreteness of representation, precision
of form and meaning -- combined with a
broad-ranging erudition (classical antiquity, European history, especially, cultural and including art and religion).
Mandelshtam summed up his poetic
credo in his manifesto Utro Akmeizma
("The Morning of Acmeism," 1913,
though not published until 1919). In
1913, he underwrites the publication of
his first slim volume of verse, Kamen
("Stone"), to be followed by the larger
volume with the same name in 1916 and
1923. The title was emblematic of the
Acmeist and especially Mandelshtams
identification with the cultural essence of
St. Petersburg, the classical tradition of
Western European civilization and the
architectural expression of its spiritual
and political heritage. The first two editions of Kamen (1913 and 1916) established Mandelshtam as a full-fledged
member of the glorious cohort of Russian
poets. His subsequent collections
(Vtoraia kniga [Book Two], 1923, and
Stikhotvoreniia [Poems], 1928) earned
him the reputation of a leading poet of
his generation.

Disinclined to serve as a mouthpiece


for political propaganda (unlike Vladimir
Mayakovsky), Mandelshtam considered
a dialogue with his time a moral imperative for a poet. He responded to
WWI and the revolution with a series of
historical-philosophical, meditative poems that are among the best and most
profound in the corpus of Russian civic
poetry. By temperament and conviction a
supporter of the Socialist Revolutionary
party, he welcomed the collapse of the
old regime in 1917 and was opposed to
the Bolshevik seizure of power. However, his experiences during the Civil
War left little doubt that he had
no place in the White movement.
As a Russian poet, he felt he had
to share the fate of his country and
could not opt for emigration. Like
many Russian intellectuals at the
time (sympathizers of the Change of
Landmarks movement or fellow
travelers), he made peace with the
Soviets without identifying himself
wholly with Bolshevik methods or
goals. During the Civil War (191821), Mandelshtam lived alternately in
Petrograd, Kiev, the Crimea, and Georgia under a variety of regimes. In 1922,
after the publication of his new volume
of poetry, Tristia, he decided to settle in
Moscow and married Nadezhda Yakovlevna Khazina, whom he had met in Kiev
in 1919.
Mandelshtam's poetry, erudite, resonating with historical analogies and classical myths, set him on the outer margins
of Soviet literary establishment but did
not diminish his standing as a premier
poet of his time both among the literary
elite and the most astute readers of poetry
in the Bolshevik government
(Mandelshtam was patronized by Nikolay Bukharin). After Tristia, Mandelshtams poetic output gradually diminished, and although some of his most
significant poems were composed in
1923-24 (Slate Ode and 1 January
1924), it came to a complete halt in
1925. As he was turning away from po-

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

etry, Mandelshtam produced some of the


20th-centurys best memoir prose (The
Noise of Time and Theodosia, 1923) and
a short experimental novel (The Egyptian
Stamp, 1928). During the 1920s, he also
published a series of brilliant critical essays (The End of the Novel, The 19th
Century, The Badgers Hole: Alexander Blok, and others). Included in a collection O poezii (On Poetry, 1928), these
essays, along with his Conversation
about Dante (1932, published in 1967)),
were to have a lasting
impact

on
Russian
literary scholarship (Mikhail
Bakhtin, the Formalists).
Like many of his fellow poets and
writers, Mandelshtam earned his living in
the 1920s by literary translation. In 1929,
in the tense, politicized atmosphere of the
Stalin revolution, Mandelshtam became
enmeshed in a copyright scandal which
further estranged him from the literary
establishment. In response, Mandelshtam
produced Fourth Prose (1930), a stream
of consciousness monologue mocking the
servility of Soviet writers, brutality of the
cultural bureaucracy, and the absurdity of
socialist construction. Fourth Prose
was not published in Russia until 1989.
In 1930, thanks to the Nikolay Buk-

Disinclined to
serve as a
mouthpiece
for political
propaganda

(unlike
Vladimir
Mayakovsky),
Mandelshtam
considered a
dialogue with
his time
a moral
imperative for
a poet.

The stress of the


arrest,
Imprisonment and
interrogations,
which forced
Mandelstam to

divulge
the names of the
friends who had
heard him recite
the poem, led to a
protracted bout
of mental illness.

harins still powerful patronage, Mandelshtam was commissioned to travel to


Armenia to observe and record the progress of their Five-Year Plan. The result
was Mandelshtams return to poetry (the
cycle Armenia and subsequent
Moscow Notebooks) and Journey to
Armenia, a powerful example of modernist travel prose. Some of the poetry of the
period, along with the Journey, were published in periodical press in 1932-33 and
were to be the last publications in his
lifetime. Cleansed of the earlier scandal,
Mandelshtam settles back in Moscow as
a prominent member of the writers community, a development facilitated by
a brief thaw in cultural
policy
in 19323 4 .
However,
M a n delshtams
i n d e p e nd ence,
his
aversion to
moral compromise, his
sense of civic
responsibility
and the horror
he felt
at the repression
of the peasantry set him on a collision
course with the Stalinist party-state. In
November 1933, Mandelshtam produced
a searing epigram on Stalin which he
subsequently read to many of his friends
(We live unable to sense the country
under our feet). Aware of a mounting
opposition to Stalin within the party,
which reached its crescendo in January
1934 at the 17th Party Congress, Mandelstam hoped that his poem would become
urban folklore and broaden the base of
the anti-Stalin opposition. In the poem,
Stalin, a slayer of peasants with wormlike fingers and cock-roach mustachios,
delights in wholesale torture and executions. Denounced by someone in his circle, Mandelshtam was arrested for the
epigram in May 1934 and sent into exile,

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

with Stalins verdict isolate but protect.


The lenient verdict was dictated by Stalins desire to win over the intelligentsia
to his side and to improve his image
abroad, a policy in line with his staging
of the First Congress of Soviet Writers
(August 1934).
The stress of the arrest, imprisonment
and interrogations, which forced Mandelstam to divulge the names of the friends
who had heard him recite the poem, led
to a protracted bout of mental illness.
While in the hospital in Cherdyn (the
Urals), Mandelstam attempted suicide by
jumping out of the window but survived
and was re-assigned to a more hospitable
city of Voronezh where he managed to
regain some of his mental balance. An
exile afforded the highest protection,
he was allowed to work in the local theater and radio station but the imposed isolation form his milieu was becoming unbearable. Mandelshtam became obsessed
with the idea of redeeming his offense
against Stalin and transforming himself
into a new Soviet man. This Voronezh
period (1934-37) is, perhaps, the most
productive in Mandelshtam career as a
poet, yielding three remarkable cycles,
the Voronezh Notebooks, along with his
longest ever poem, Ode to Stalin. In a
way a culmination of the Voronezh Notebooks, it is at once a brilliant Pindaric
panegyric to his tormentor and a Christlike plea to the father of all people to
be spared the Cross. Composed by a
great poet, it stands as a unique monument to the mental horror of Stalinism
and the tragedy of the intelligentsias
capitulation before the violence and ideological diktat of the Stalinist regime.
In May 1937, his sentence served,
Mandelshtam left Voronezh but as a former exile, was not allowed a residence
permit within a 100 km radius of Moscow. Destitute, homeless, suffering from
asthma and heart disease, Mandelshtam
persisted in trying to rehabilitate himself,
making rounds of the writers apartments
and Writers Unions offices, reciting the

Ode, pleading for work and a return to a normal life.


The poets friends in Moscow and Leningrad took up a
collection to
save the Mandelshtams from starvation.
In March 1938, the
Ge ne r al
Secretary of the
Writers
Union, Vladimir
Stavksy,
denounced Mandelshtam
to the head of the
secret
police, Nikolay
Yezhov,
as someone stirring
up
trouble in the
writers
community. The
denunciation included
an expert
review of Mandelshtams
oeuvre by a
writer Peter Pavlenko who dismissed Mandelshtam as a
mere versifier, with grudging praise but for a few of the
Odes lines. A month later, on 3 May 1938, Mandelshtam was arrested. Sentenced to five years of labor
camps for anti-Soviet activity, he died in a transit camp
near Vladivostok on 27 December 1938. The Ode remained unpublished until 1976.
Perhaps more than any other poet of his glorious generation, with the exception of Velemir Khlebnikov,
Mandelshtam was distinguished by a complete commitment to his vocation as a poet-prophet, poet-martyr.
Without permanent residence or steady employment but
for a brief interlude in the early 1930s, he lived the life
of an archetypal poet, dispersing manuscripts among his
friends and relying on their memory for archiving his
unpublished poetry. It was primarily through the efforts
of his widow, who died in 1980, that little of the poetry
of Osip Mandelshtam was lost; she kept his works alive
during the repression by memorizing them and by collecting manuscript copies.
After Stalin's death the publication in Russian of

Robertos
Pointless
Inner
Voice
Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

Mandelshtam's works resumed, with the first volume of


Mandelshtams poetry coming out in 1973. But it was
the early American two-volume annotated edition of
Mandelshtam by Gleb Struve and
Boris Filippov (1964),
along with
the books of
memoirs by
Nadezhda
M a n delshtam,
that brought
the
poets
oeuvre to the
attention of the
new generations of readers, scholars, and
fellow
poets. In Russia at the turn of the twenty first century,
Mandelshtam has remained one of the most quoted poets
of his day.

Bibliography
Osip Mandelshtam: Poems, chosen and translated by
James Greene ; forewords by Nadezhda Mandelshtam &
Donald Davie. (1978). The Prose of Osip Mandelshtam:
The Noise of Time, Theodosia, The Egyptian stamp.
Translated, with a critical essay, by Clarence Brown
(1965, 1989). The complete critical prose and letters /
Mandelshtam ; edited by Jane Gary Harris ; translated
by Jane Gary Harris. (1979) Nadezhda Mandelshtam
(Nadezhda Mandelshtam), Hope Against Hope (1970,
reissued 1989; originally published in Russian, 1970),
and Hope Abandoned (1974, reissued 1989; originally
published in Russian, 1972), memoirs by his wife, were
published in the West in Russian and English. Clarence
Brown, Mandelshtam (1976). Ronen, Omry. An Approach to Mandelshtam (1983). Gregory Freidin, A
Coat of Many Colors: Osip Mandelshtam and His My-

Narratology
Theory (exceprt)
by Lucie Guillemette
2.1 ORIGINS AND
FUNCTION

Using a
rigorous
typology,
Genette has
developed a
theory of
narratological
poetics that
may be used to
address the
entire inventory
of narrative
processes
in use.

rard Genette's work (1972


and 1983) fits into the German and Anglo-Saxon academic tradition, and is intended to serve
as both a culmination and a renewal of
this school of narratological criticism.
We should point out that internal analysis, like any semiotic analysis, exhibits
two characteristics. Firstly, it is concerned with narratives as independent
linguistic objects, detached from their
context of production and reception. Secondly, it aims to reveal an underlying
structure that can be identified in many
different narratives.
Using a rigorous typology, Genette
has developed a theory of narratological
poetics that may be used to address the
entire inventory of narrative processes in
use. According to Genette, every text
discloses traces of narration, which can
be studied in order to understand exactly
how the narrative is organized. The approach advocated here clearly addresses
a level that lies below the threshold of
interpretation, and as such, it constitutes
a solid foundation, complementing other
research being done in the social sciences, e.g., in sociology, literary history,
ethnology and psychoanalysis..

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

NOTE: NARRATOLOGY: BETWEEN


TEXTUALISM AND PRAGMATICS
As a typology of narrative, Grard
Genette's theory of narratology is regarded by many specialists in the field as
a reading method that marks an important
milestone in the development of literary
theory and discourse analysis. By using
narrative voice as a concept through
which all the other categories are articulated, Genette engages the context of production as a fundamental element.

2.2 NARRATIVE MOOD


When a text is written, technical
choices must be made in view of producing a particular result in the story's verbal
representation. In this way, the narrative
employs distancing and other effects to
create a particular narrative mood that
governs "the regulation of narrative information" provided to the reader (1980,
p. 41). According to Genette, all narrative is necessarily diegesis (telling), in
that it can attain no more than an illusion
of mimesis (showing) by making the
story real and alive. Thus, every narrative
implies a narrator.
For Genette, then, a narrative cannot
in fact imitate reality, no matter how realistic; it is intended to be a fictional act of

language arising from a narrative instance. "Narrative does not 'represent' a


(real or fictive) story, it recounts it that
is, it signifies it by means of language
[...]. There is no place for imitation in
narrative [...]" (1988, p. 43). Thus, in
place of the two main traditional narrative moods, diegesis and mimesis,
Genette contends that there are simply
varying degrees of diegesis, with the narrator either more involved or less involved in the narrative, and leaving less
room or more room for the narrative act.
However, Genette insists that in no case
is the narrator completely absent.

2.2.1 DISTANCE
Any study of narrative mood requires
that we assess the distance between the
narrator and the story. Distance helps
us to determine the degree of precision in a narrative and the accuracy
of the information conveyed.
Whether the text is a narrative of
events (tells what the character is
doing) or a narrative of words
(tells what the character is saying or thinking), there are four
types of discourse, each
demonstrating progressively
greater distance taken by
the narrator with respect
to the text (1980, pp. 171
-172):
1. Narratized speech: The character's
words and actions are integrated into the
narration, and are treated like any other
event (-distant).
Example: He confided in his friend,
telling him about his mother's death.
2. Transposed speech, indirect style:
The character's words or actions are reported by the narrator, who presents them
with his interpretation (- + distant).
Example: He confided to his friend
that his mother had passed away.
3. Transposed speech, free indirect
style: The character's words or actions are
reported by the narrator, but without using a subordinating conjunction (+ - distant).

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

Example: He confided to his friend:


his mother had passed away.
4. Reported speech: The character's
words are cited verbatim by the narrator
(+ distant).
Example: He confided to his friend:
"My mother passed away."

2.2.2 THE FUNCTIONS


OF THE NARRATOR
Using the notion of narrative distance
as a starting point, Genette presents the
functions of the narrator as such (1980,
pp. 255-256). He lists five functions that
also reveal the degree to which the narrator intervenes in his narrative, based
on the desired degree of
detachment or involvement.
1.
The
narrative
function:
The narrative
function is a
fundamental
one. Any time
we have a narrative, this role
(detachment)
is
assumed by the narrator, whether present
in the text or not.
2. The directing function: The narrator performs a directing function
when
he interrupts the story to
comment on the organization or articulation of his text (involvement).
3. The communication function: The
narrator addresses the narratee directly
(that is, the text's potential reader) in order to establish or maintain contact with
him or her (involvement).
4. The testimonial function: The narrator affirms the truth of his story, the
degree of precision in his narration, his
certainty regarding the events, his
sources of information, and the like. This
function also comes into play when the
narrator expresses his emotions about the

Any study of
narrative
mood requires
that we assess
the distance
between the
narrator and
the story.
Distance
helps us to
determine the
degree of
precision in a
narrative and
the accuracy
of the
information
conveyed.

story, that is, the affective relation he has


with it (involvement).
5. The ideological function: The narrator interrupts his story to introduce instructive comments or general wisdom
concerning his narrative (involvement).

A distinction
should be
made between
narrative voice
and narrative
perspective;

The diegetic narrative mood, then, is


expressed to varying degrees, depending
on the degree to which the narrator is
effaced from or represented in his narrative. This distancing between the narration and the story helps the narratee to
evaluate the narrative information being
presented, "as the view I have of a picture depends for precision on the distance
separating me from it [...]" (1980, p.
162).

counting, he may acquire a particular


status, depending on the way the story is
rendered. "We will therefore distinguish
here two types of narrative: one with the
narrator absent from the story he tells
[...], the other with the narrator present as
a character in the story he tells [...]. I call
the first type, for obvious reasons, heterodiegetic, and the second type homodiegetic" (1980, pp. 244-245).
In addition, if the homodiegetic narrator is the hero of the story, he/she is
called autodiegetic.

2.3.2 THE TIME OF THE


NARRATION
The narrator is always in a specific
temporal position relative to the story he/
she is telling. Genette describes four
kinds of narration:

the latter is
the point of
view adopted
by the
narrator,
which Genette
calls
focalization.

2.3 THE NARRATIVE


INSTANCE
The narrative instance is said to be the
conjunction between (1) narrative voice
(who is speaking?), (2) time of the narration (when does the telling occur, relative
to the story?) and (3) narrative perspective (through whom are we perceiving?).
As with narrative mood, by examining
the narrative instance we can gain a better understanding of the relations between the narrator and the story in a
given narrative.

2.3.1 THE NARRATIVE


VOICE
If the narrator lets signs of his presence appear in the narrative he is re-

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

1. Subsequent narration: This is the


most common temporal position. The
narrator tells what happened in some past
time.
2. Prior narration: The narrator tells
what is going to happen at some future
time. This kind of narration often takes
the form of a dream or prophecy.
3. Simultaneous narration: The narrator tells his/her story at the very moment
it occurs.
4. Interpolated narration: This complex type of narration combines prior and
simultaneous narration. For example, a
narrator tells what he experienced during
the day (after the fact), and also includes
his current impressions about these
events.

2.3.3 NARRATIVE
PERSPECTIVE
A distinction should be made between
narrative voice and narrative perspective;
the latter is the point of view adopted by
the narrator, which Genette calls focalization. "So by focalization I certainly
mean a restriction of 'field' actually,
that is, a selection of narrative informa-

tion with respect to what was traditionally called omniscience" (1988, p. 74).
These are matters of perception: the one
who perceives is not necessarily the one
who tells, and vice versa.
Genette distinguishes three kinds of
focalization:
1. Zero focalization: The narrator
knows more than the characters. He may
know the facts about all of the protagonists, as well as their thoughts and gestures. This is the traditional "omniscient
narrator".
2. Internal focalization: The narrator
knows as much as the focal character.
This character filters the information provided to the reader. He cannot report the
thoughts of other characters.
3. External focalization: The narrator
knows less than the characters. He acts a
bit like a camera lens, following the protagonists' actions and gestures from the
outside; he is unable to guess their
thoughts.
By examining the characteristics of a
narrative instance and the particulars of
the narrative mood, we can clarify the
mechanisms used in the narrative act, and
identify exactly what methodological
choices the author made in order to render his/her story. The use of different
narratological processes creates different
effects for the reader. For example, one
could have a hero-narrator (autodiegetic
narrator) who uses simultaneous narration and internal focalization and whose
speech is often in reported form. This
would undoubtedly produce a strong illusion of realism and credibility.

2.4 LEVELS
Various reading effects result from
shifts in narrative level, traditionally
known as embedding. Within the main
plot, the author can insert other short embedded narratives, told by other narrators
from other narrative perspectives. This is
a rather common technique that adds diversity to the narrative act and increases
the complexity of the narrative.

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

Genettes Narrative levels


OBJECTS

LEVELS

NARRATIVE
CONTENT

Main plot

Extradiegetic

Homodiegetic narration
("I")

Event-story

Intradiegetic

Story about the teacher


and the children

Second-level
narrative act

Intradiegetic

The teacher speaks

Embedded narrative

Metadiegetic

Story of Marguerite
Bourgeois

2.4.1 EMBEDDED
NARRATIVES
Narration of the main (first-level) narrative occurs at the extradiegetic level.
The event-story being narrated on this
first level fills a second-level position,
known as intradiegetic. If a character
found in this story takes the floor and
tells some other narrative, his narrative
act will also be on the same intradiegetic
level. However, the events being told
through the second-level narration are
metadiegetic.
Example (fictitious): Today I saw a
teacher come up to a group of children at
play. After a few minutes, she spoke:
"Listen, children, I'm going to tell you an
amazing story of courage that happened
a few hundred years ago. This is the
story of Marguerite Bourgeois..."

2.4.2 METALEPSIS
Writers sometimes also use metalepsis, a process in which the boundary between two narrative levels (which is normally impervious) is breached so as to
deliberately blur the line between reality
and fiction. Metalepsis is a way of playing with variations in narrative level in
order to create an effect of displacement

Various
reading
effects
result from
shifts in
narrative
level,
traditionally
known as
embedding.

or illusion. This would be a case in which


a character or narrator from one level
appears on the scene at a higher level,
whereas plausibility completely excludes
this possibility. "All these games, by the
intensity of their effects, demonstrate the
importance of the boundaries they [the
authors] tax their ingenuity to overstep,
in defiance of verisimilitude a boundary that is precisely the narrating (or the
performance) itself: a shifting but sacred
frontier between two worlds, the world in
which one tells, the world of which one
tells" (1980, p. 236).

to the events being told? Genette also


gave some thought to the question of narrative time: How is the story presented
with respect to the narrative as a whole,
with respect to the final result? Once
again, several methodological choices are
available to writers. In order to achieve
the expected result, they can vary (1) the
order of the narrative, (2) the speed of the
narrative and (3) the frequency of events.
Skillful use of these techniques allows
the narratee to identify which narrative
elements are being emphasized by the
author(s) and what the structure and organization of the text is.

2.5.2 ORDER

The term
Genette
uses to
designate
nonchronological
order is

anachrony.
To return to our previous example,
if the homodiegetic narrator from the
main story line intervenes in the metadiegetic story of Marguerite Bourgeois,
this would be a case of metalepsis. Marguerite Bourgeois is a 17th-century heroine who founded the Notre-Dame Congregation school for girls in Montreal. So
it would be impossible for a contemporary ("current") narrator to appear on the
scene, camping out in New France in this
embedded story.

2.5 NARRATIVE TIME


We have already seen that the time of
narration has to do with the relation between the narration and the story: What
is the narrator's temporal position relative

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

Order is the relation between


the sequencing of events in the
story and their arrangement in
the narrative. A narrator may
choose to present the events in
the order they occurred, that is,
chronologically, or he can recount them out of order. For example, detective novels often begin
with a murder that has to be solved.
The events preceding the crime,
along with the facts leading to the
killer, are presented afterwards.
The order in which the events actually occurred does not match the
order in which they are presented in
the narrative. This mixing of temporal
order yields a more gripping, complex
plot.
The term Genette uses to designate
non-chronological order is anachrony.
There are two types of anachrony:
1. Analepsis: The narrator recounts
after the fact an event that took place earlier than the present point in the main
story.
Example (fictitious): I woke up in a
good mood this morning. In my mind
were memories of my childhood, with
Mum singing every morning, her voice
ringing out.
2. Prolepsis: The narrator anticipates
events that will occur after the main story

ends.
3. Summary: NT < ST. Some part of the event-story is
Example (fictitious): How will my adventure in summarized in the narrative, creating an acceleration.
Europe affect me? I will never be able to look at my fam- Summaries can be of variable length.
ily and friends in the same way; surely I will become con4. Ellipsis: NT = 0; ST = n. The narrative says absotentious and distant.
lutely nothing about some part of the event-story.
Needless to say, these four kinds of narrative speed
There are two factors that can enter into analepsis and can be used to varying degrees. They can also be comprolepsis: reach and extent. "An anachrony can reach into bined: A dialogue scene can contain a summary within it,
the past or the future, either more or less far from the for example. Variations in speed within a narrative can
"present" moment (that is, from the moment in the story show the relative importance assigned to different events
when the narrative was interrupted to make room for the in the story. If an author passes quickly over a particular
anachrony): this temporal distance we will name the fact, lingers over it, or omits it entirely, there is certainly
anachrony's reach. The anachrony itself can also cover a reason to ask why he made these textual choices.
duration of story that is more or less long: we will call
this its extent" (1980, p. 48).

2.5.3 FREQUENCY OF EVENTS

One last concept remains to be examined with respect


to narrative time: the notion of narrative frequency. This
is the relation between the number of times an event occurs in the story and the number of times it is mentioned
in the narrative. "A system of relationships is established
between these capacities for 'repetition' on the part of
both the narrated events (of the story) and the narrative
statements (of the text) a system of relationships that
we can a priori reduce to four virtual types, simply from
the multiplication of the two possibilities given on both
sides: the event repeated or not, the statement repeated or
Other reading effects may be obtained by varying the not" (1980, p. 114).
narrative speed. Genette uses theatrical performances as
These four possibilities imply four kinds of frequency
his basis, in which the event-story ideally has the same
duration as the staged narration. However, in literary relations, which can then be organized into three categotexts, the narrator can speed up or slow down the narra- ries (1980, pp. 114-116 ):
tion with respect to the events being told. For example,
1. Singulative narration: 1N / 1S : Narrating once
we can summarize someone's entire life in a single sentence, or we can take a thousand pages to recount events what happened once.
occurring over a 24-hour period.
nN / nS : Relating n times
what happened n times.
Genette lists four narrative movements (1980, p. 94)
2. Repeating narrative: nN /1S. Recounting more than
(NT: narrative time; ST: the story's time):
once what happened once.
3. Iterative narrative: 1N/nS. Relating one time what
1. Pause: NT = n; ST = 0. The event-story is inter- happened several times.
rupted to make room exclusively for narratorial discourse. Static descriptions fall into this category.
Credits: Lucie Guillemette and Cynthia Lvesque (2006),
2. Scene: NT = ST. Narrative time corresponds to the Narratology , in Louis Hbert (dir.), Signo [online],
story's time. Dialogue is a good example of this.
Rimouski (Quebec), http://www.signosemio.com. 
Anachronies can have several functions in a narrative.
While analepses often take on an explanatory role, developing a character's psychology by relating events from
his past, prolepses can arouse the reader's curiosity by
partially revealing facts that will surface later. These
breaks in chronology may also simply fulfill a dissenting
role, if the author wishes to disrupt the classical novel's
linear representation to some degree.

2.5.2 NARRATIVE SPEED

At AMR, we understand the frustration, the sleepless nights, the loss of


sexual appetite and our back issues are here to answer all those questions and so much more. Collect them all. Read them. Sleep better.
http://amr.obook.org/back_issues.php
Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

The Anti-Art of Art Built


on Un-Creating Past
Creative Creations
Letterists AKA Lettrists, Isouians,
Creatics, Loons, and Alcoholics
By Pascal-Denis Lussier

H
Letterism;
what is it?
If youre
guessing that it
has something
to do with
letters, then
youre entirely
correct, but
only partially so.
Sounds
contradictory?

ow did I get myself into this?


Easy; I like to inflict pain! But
since Im also an absolute pacifist who cant stand to see others suffer,
this leaves me with only one possible
target on which to satisfy this perverse
need: myself! So when asked, Hey!
You feel like doing an article on Letterism? of course I answered with, Yeah!
Cool! and then set about to write on the
topic Anybody whos tried to get a
clear grasp of the subject understands
why this is self-flagellation at its best!
Not only do the 30 or so texts Ive read
on the subject contradict themselves one
way or another, they also offer
different dates for many of the key
events!!! And if that werent enough,
members of the Letterist group themselves promoted a confusing array of
ideas and concepts which increasingly
contradicted the initial, fundamental
schemes which had launched the movement.

Before I get too far, allow me to clarify one aspect the more hardcore theory
obsessed folks amongst you (all AMR
readers?) are no doubt already sighing
over: although Lettrism is the accepted
English spelling, the Lettristes themselves prefer Letterism for the Anglicised term; since Im me and always opt
for the road less taken, Ill employ
Letterism.

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

Letterism; what is it? If youre guessing that it has something to do with letters, then youre entirely correct, but only
partially so.
Sounds contradictory?
Well, yes and no and perhaps maybe.
There! Now youre up to par with most
of the texts written about this movement
established by Isidore Isouborn IoanIsidor Goldstein in Botosani on January
31, 1925 (yet many texts claim 1928 as
the year of his birth!?!)a Romanian
Ashkenazi Jew turned Frenchmen who
claimed in 1999 to have no hang ups
about his name and who recoils at the
idea of pseudonyms, yet signed his work
under Jean-Isidore Isou and finally under
Isidore Isou
Infatuated with Dadaism and a great
fan of his fellow countryman, Tristan
Tzara, whom he saw as the foremost artistic creator and the sole originator of
Dada, as well as being greatly influenced
by the Surrealist Andr Breton, Isidore
Isou was nonetheless displeased with the
limited innovations these movements
produced in the early 40s; according to
him, all other Dadaists that followed
Tzara were mere plagiarists, and Surrealism was moving too rapidly towards
mysticism and had reached a point of
stagnation and theoretical bankruptcy (Isou, 1948). Building on these
two movements (or rather chiselling to-

wards a new amplic phase, as will be discussed further on), Isouwho, no doubt,
was a lonely teenwrote his first Letterist Manifesto in 1942 at the age of 16, in
which he makes the claim: Letterism =
I s i d o r e
I s o u
After the war, Isou relocated to Paris and
befriended Gabriel Pomerand; the Letterist movement officially saw the light of
day in November 1945.
Othe r s
soon
joined
them
a n d
Is o u
finally
ga i ne d
a great
deal of
respect
i
n
France
in
the
60s.
It is
interesting to note that
the 1942 manifesto seems to have been
motivated by his misreading of a phrase
by the German philosopher Hermann
von Keyserling, who wrote, The poet
dilates vocals, since vocals in Romanian, signifies vowels.
Before delving into Letterism itself, it
is important to set the stage on which
they were to make their entrance
The Industrial Revolution and the
subsequent rise of fascism in some areas,
along with the oppressive bourgeois
dominance over the proletariatseen as
the real causes of World War I by leftwing idealists and the disillusioned youth
who saw very little hope in their immediate futuresfed the intellectual and artistic reactions that culminated towards
movements and schools of thought
whose very aim was the annihilation of
social demoralization. The grip that was
still firmly held by old world despotism

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

over the libertarian new world ideals and


the technological advancements which
had been delivered with the promise of
offering a release from the daily drudgery
and rampant destitution, especially in
eastern European countries, created propitious conditions for rebellious behaviour of all sorts.
Is it really coincidental that
Dadaism officially saw the
light of day
the
same
year, 1916,
and in the
same country, Switzerland,
in
which one
of the most
significant
works
of
linguistics
analysis
was published: Cours de linguistic
gnrale, by Ferdinand de Saussure (or
rather, a posthumous collection of his
class lectures compiled by two of his students)a seminal work that not only
revolutionized further approaches
adopted in the field of linguistics, but
which shed a tremendous light on the
conforming, traditionalist-focused restrictions imposed by the conventions
inherent to all common languages.
It is true that most of the ideas put
forth by Saussure had been voiced by
various quasi-linguists and philosophers
in the 19th century, Saussure was the first
to truly formalise a systematic approach
to the subject. As such, the identification
and elaboration of the basal linguistic
structural elements he proposed has had
profound implications for the study of
literature and has been a foremost influence on nearly all literary developments
up to today, including Existentialism and
Absurdism. It is important here to emphasize the fact that the Structuralist

...interesting
to note that
the 1942
manifesto
seems to
have been
motivated by
his misreading
of a phrase by
the German
philosopher
Hermann
von Keyserling
who wrote,
The poet
dilates
vocals, since
vocals in
Romanian,
signifies
vowels.

movement was entirely made possible by


Saussure's examination on the subject,
and that from this point of view, the
study of literature became focused not
on the discovery or pursuit of meaning, but upon an analysis of the process
of reading, upon an investigation of
how meaning is experienced and articulated through the sign system deployed by a given text.

This soundimage is not


precisely an
actual sound
that is spoken,
but the
"psychological
imprint of the
sound, the
impression
that it
makes on
our senses"
(Saussure, 1916).

If youve taken the time to read Isous


original manifesto youve certainly deduced that the name Lettrisme, from the
French word for letter (lettre), is due to
the fact that the movements early preoccupation was entirely centered on letters
and other forms of linguistics signs. Isou
described Letterism as: [Art that accepts the reduction of letters to their
basal form (adding or entirely replacing
poetic and musical elements) thus enabling them to surpass their usual linguistic conventions in order to mould new
entities shaping coherent works] (Isou,
1947). Breaking away from the conventions detailed by Saussure, which I
will discuss below, is indeed the basis
for all of Isous work.
Although Isidore Isou never refers to
Ferdinand de Saussure, the most prominent and influential member of the Geneva School of Linguistics, whose totally
new, radical approach towards linguistic
analysis served as the basis towards the
ideas of Roman Jakobson and the Prague
Linguistic Circle (which Isou was aware
of), and as well, that no other texts proffer this correlationan AMR exclusiveit seems abundantly clear, from my
point of view, that many of the ideas put
forth in his manifesto (reprinted here as a
prologue to this article) are directly influenced by Saussures writings. Isou, being highly interested in the conventions
imposed by language, surely came across
Saussure in his quest for new modes of
thought as these, namely Saussures preoccupation with diachronic versus synchronic developments, syntagmatic versus paradigmatic relations, along with his

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

observations and analysis of the linguistic signemphasizing a complex relationship uniting a concept with a soundimagewere considered highly radical,
revolutionary ideas on the subject of
communication at the time.

This sound-image is not precisely an actual sound that is spoken, but the
"psychological imprint of the sound, the
impression that it makes on our
senses" (Saussure, 1916). In Saussurian
Linguistics, meaning exists iff (if and
only if), the sound-image, or signifier,
indicates a concept, or signified element
that exists in the world of the speaker.
The union of these two is what enables
meaningful communication to take place,
but only if the codification of a signifier
with a signified is shared by the speaker
and the auditor (or writer and reader).
This breakdown of the linguistic sign led
Saussure to posit the idea that this shared
codification and the ensuing connection
between the signifier and signified is not
natural or intuitive; signs are not absolute, they are entirely arbitrary. Therefore, within this system, meaning is entirely dependent on a culturally agreed
upon conventions
Two possible objections to the notion
of arbitrariness were also discussed in
depth by Saussure, onomatopoeia and
interjections; since these words are meant
to imitate clearly identifiable sounds (e.g.

pow, bang, etc.) or spontaneous expressions (e.g. ouch), the signifier should
therefore not be arbitrary. This idea was
appropriatedwhilst wilfully ignoring
an important segment of Saussures view
on the subjectby members of the
Futurist move ment,
which, following F.T.
Marinetti's
1909 Manifesto of Futurism, created
Onomatopoeic
Poetry, a poetic mode that
was
highly
popularized by
Raoul Hausmann
after a
1921 reading of his
poem fmsbw in
Prague.
Futurist influence on Isou and Letterists is somewhat evident in the early
phase of the movement; poetry was the
primary and very nearly sole focus of
the Letterists who promoted a form
of visual poetry that relied on new
calligraphic techniques, superimposed letters, and the introduction of
new and changing letters, as well as
oral performances that were entirely
dependant on the readers recitation
and use of inflections.
It is important to reiterate here that,
much like Absurdism, semantic content
is of little importance to Letterists, who,
by emphasizing the sound value of words
to produce emotions, originally sought to
demonstrate that beauty and worth lies
purely in auditory sounds, thus placing a
great deal of importance on phonetic accents; they saw unuttered linguistic signs
as fallacious entities, and a dependence
on such signs as the hallmark of misinterpretation and flawed, unsatisfactory communication, which has its roots in oppressive ideals and failing societal regimes that offer very little hope for a better future through its promotion of misdirected delinquency by way of stifling true

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

creativity.
However, both onomatopoeic words
and interjections, as Saussure argued, are
only approximations of a sound-image
since they are not universally the same
across all languages; they therefore rely
and conform to the broader linguistic
system they are part of, hence the varied
spellings across languages used to symbolize the same sounds. This notion became increasingly accepted by those
seeking to destroy all formalisms, and so,
by the time Isou immersed himself in
these matters and was seeking an acceptable outlet and literary voice, Onomatopoeic Poetry was no longer perceived as
the systemization providing the only viable poetry of the moment.
The general loss of interest in this form
and Isous initial reluctance towards it
was partially due to his recognition of its
adherence to the strict morphophonemic
rules separately underlying all languages,
and is also
in part due to
the fact that,
through
its
condemnation
of all other
literary
forms, the
ideals maintained by
Onomatopoeic Poets contradicted
the core
principles of Futurism,
which sought to destroy all past artistic forms in order to create new ones. It
is important to remember that since after
the First World War, the leading tendency of many intellectually-driven artistic communities still saw the creation of
new forms of expression, in all fields, as
the highest value of all human activity.
And so, according to Isou and others
(such as G.-E. Debord G. Wolman) that
soon joined his Letterist movement, this
new genre, although appealing, could

Futurist
influence on Isou
and Letterists is
somewhat evident
in the early phase
of the movement;
poetry was the
primary and very
nearly sole focus
of the Letterists
who promoted a
form of visual poetry that relied on
new calligraphic
techniques,
superimposed
letters, and the
introduction of
new and changing
letters...

only lead to a new form of the very same


artistic stagnation that had become a serious setback to all revolutionary attempts
aiming to rid post World War II society
from the petit-bourgeoisie spirit and the
weaknesses of the working class aesthetic. However, thus creating the disdain which
motivated Futurism and their
short-lived
popularity, this
belief in formal
evolution without cause or
end other than
in-itself was
perceived as
the basis of
all
bourgeois idealism in the
arts.

Ironically,
despite all past
efforts that had
placed a great
deal of emphasis
on vocal sounds,
the bulk of
Letterist
activities shifted
towards visual
manifestations

As a sidey e t totallyrelated note, reflection on


this discordant aspect of this branch of
Futurism led Isou to posit his amplic and
chiselling theory of art history, and indeed of the history of civilization. His
point of view is that there are periods
of amplification (amplic phase),
where new forms are discovered and
applied, then periods of excision
(chiselling phase), where superfluous forms are reduced and eliminated.
While Saussure argued that
signs are arbitrary, he also
claims that signs lose that
characteristic when presented in a particular context. A signifier gains its
meaning (signified) by the
literary units, or other signifiers,
that either precede it or come after it;
language can only function in a temporally restrained manner and is thusly dependant on the linear nature of a signifier, i.e. signification is dependant upon

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

the string of language in which it is embedded. This notion points to the centrality of the linguistic context to the
experience of meaning. Although the
relationship of signifier and signified is
arbitrary, the meaningfulness of the
sign is not: it is wholly determined by
and contributes to the linguistic string
of which it is a part.
In this sense, Letterists were trying to
break away from the obligatory syntagmatic principles governing communication, as well as the diachronic developments which automatically forged youthful modes of thinking as per previously
established codes of conduct prescribed
through grammatical rules, hence the
reasons why, in Isous manifesto, the
many references pitting youth against the
elderly.
Ironically, despite all past efforts that
had placed a great deal of emphasis on
vocal sounds, the bulk of Letterist activities shifted towards visual manifestationsthis, of course, implies deterministic reliance on symbolsand
Letterists soon adapted
this approach to
nearly all

facets of
a r t ,
including film,
dance,
and architecture.
This points to
a
n
important contradiction of
sorts since Ferdinand de Saussure was also the first
to make the claim against any parallels

being drawn between signs and symbols, a symbol,


he argued, exists solely because they lack this arbitrary
feature, and can only function, although couched in language, if a clearly accepted and culturally established
meaning is attributed to it that isnt open to varying interpretations. For example, a stick with 2 intertwined
snakes denotes medicine, and nothing else.
Paradoxically, in light of certain statements appearing
in Isous manifesto, namely, Words: Discern too concretely to leave room for the mind. the Lettrist movement, while refusing to admit as much, not only attempted to counter the obscurity of meaning through the
introduction of new symbols, but also aimed to reduce
consonantsvowels were entirely superfluous (this demonstrates incredible foresight considering recent findings
in the field of cognitive linguistics; Ill explore this in
greater depth in a future column)to clearly emotionally
-charged, sound carrying symbols. The groups early,
combined efforts was to produce the Lexiques de lettres
nouvelles, which introduced a sonic alphabet of roughly
140 sounds meant to give rise to a new natural language;
the use of such symbols become known as Hypergraphics.
Equally of interest, though no congruence has
yet been discussed in any printed texts
something to be explored in a future columnare
several links which can be inferred between Isi-

dore Isous overall view of language and society


and analytic philosopher Willard Van Orman
Quines epistemological empiricism, Semantic
Holism, and his legendary thesis on the Radical
Indeterminacy of Translation.
From what has been discussed thus farand which
will serve as the basis for further discussions on the subjectit should come to no surprise that Letterists were
considered dangerous anarchists, but perhaps less obvious is the fact that this is the movement that would eventually give birth to the Sex Pistols and to the punk movement.
However, this revolution produced a revolution inside
the revolution, and Letterism spawned a group of radicals, led by Guy Ernest Debord, the Lettristes Internationale (LI), whose prime goal was to bend the lawall
in the name of art; the LI, which merged in 1956 with the
International Movement For An Imagist Bauhaus, became known as Situationists. This group, Letterist in
every sense, rejected Isou for his reluctance towards illegal acts and unadulterated debauchery for the sake of experience (every single member who went on to form the
LI spent some time in jail), as well as Isous insistence
that past masterpieces should not be destroyed (a key
point that separated Isou from the Futurist movement), is
mostly responsible for the Paris uprising of May 1968
an truly important event that still has imprints on leftist
ideals 

New American Etiquette


In the not-so-distant
future, all your needs
will be cared for.
Those needs will be
limited to:
a) a plastic bubble suit
for breathing &
b) a cheerful zombie
companion.

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

THE AGE OF A
BJECTION:

KRISTEVAS
SEMANALYSIS FOR THE
REAL WORLD

By Inna Semetsky (2004)

According to
Kristeva, the aim
of semiotic
analysis is the
making of
various formal
models. We
consider such a
model to be a
symbolic
representation,
that is, a certain
system, the
structure of
which, in
Kristevas words,
is isomorphic or
analogous to the
structure of
another system

emanalysis is the term coined by


Kristeva in 1969. She however
rarely used it as an individual term
later on. As originally posited, semanalysis represents a synthesis of the apparently disparate disciplines: psychoanalysis, philosophy, logic, linguistics, and
semiotics in general. Quite paradigmatically, it points to the central role of psychoanalysis, with its emphasis on interpretation of symbols and dreams, in
semiotics. In fact semanalysis is a portmanteau word referring to both semiotics
and psychoanalysis and therefore as
will be seen lateris especially potent
for the purpose of this paper.
According to Kristeva, the aim of semiotic analysis is the making of various
formal models. We consider such a
model to be a symbolic representation,
that is, a certain system, the structure of
which, in Kristevas words, is isomorphic or analogous to the structure of another system (in Noth 1995: 322), the
one that is being modeled or represented.
Semiotics not only produces models, but
also considers the latter to be its own object of research.
A central concept in semanalysis is
the text, which however is to be understood broadly as not only verbal or linguistic, but as a translinguistic appara-

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

tus (ibid). The crucial feature of the text,


according to Kristeva, is that it is not reduced to just representing or literally
meaning the real. For Kristeva, whatever
text signifies [] it participate in the
transformation of reality, capturing it at
the moment of its non-closure (ibid/
noth)
I would like to make it clear that the
definition of the text can be ascribed to
different modalities for as long as they
serve a purpose of communication and
fulfill a specific generative activity called
by Kristeva a signifying practice. Thus,
pictures as well as any cultural artifacts
may be considered as texts, albeit extra
-linguistic. The lengthy narratives can be
composed by pictures due to the fact that
pictures have a continuous structure
[which] induces the reader to read the
picture as if it were a written
text (Posner 1989: 276).
A signifying practice, reading, and
interpretation constitute the textual productivity. With this concept Kristeva
wants to focus on the dynamical and
processual character of productivity
rather than on some final actual product.
The production is seen as a process or
work, however without any references to
Marxs social exchange. The concept of
work is posited to be analogous to what,

for example, Freud used to call dreamwork. According to Kristeva, Freud revealed production itself to be a process
not of exchange (or use) or meaning
(value) but of permutation, which provides the very model for production.
Freud therefore opens up the problematics of work as a particular semiotic system, as distinct from that of exchange (323). Etymologically, the position of analysis in semanalysis points
to decomposition or dissolution of the
sign and the text alike, which leads, by
virtue of the process of work, to the empirical discovery in practice of some deep
and hidden dimensions of meaning.
In her famous Revolution in Poetic
Language
(1974)
Kristeva further develops the psychoanalytic
significance of semanalysis by specifically differentiating between two
dimensions, the semiotic
a n d t h e s ymb o l i c .
Roughly, the former may
be related to what Freud
called primary process and
the latter to his secondary
processes. The primary process expresses itself prelinguistically, at the level of
drives and instincts; therefore
it constitutes the semiotic dimension by virtue of it being
pre-symbolic. The non-verbal
semiotic dimension precedes the
symbolic (or linguistic) one; the
two finding themselves related to each
other dialectically. Following the example of Freuds psychoanalytic psychologic, Kristeva posits a new dialectical
logic of contradiction as a foundation for
the signifying practice. The Hegelian
dialectics with its logical operation of
negation becomes a basis of any symbolic activity.

2. Abjection
The dictionary definition of abject
and abjection is as follows:

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

abjection
n.
1. the condition of being servile,
wretched, or contemptible.
2. the act of humiliating.
3. Mycol. the release of spores by a
fungus.
abject
adj.
1. utterly hopeless, miserable, humiliating, or wretched: abject poverty.
2. contemptible; despicable; basespirited: an abject coward.
3. shamelessly servile; slavish.
4. Obs. cast aside.
The meaning of abjection, as described
by Kristeva in her
Powers of Horror:
An Essay on Abjection (1982), is
one of those violent, dark revolts
of being, directed
against a threat
that seems to
emanate from
an exorbitant
outside or inside, ejected
beyond the
scope of the
possible, the
tolerable,
the thinkable (1982: 1).
We experience abjection as a spontaneous reaction that may manifest in a
form of unspeakable horror, often expressed at a physical level as uncontrollable vomiting, when faced with a breakdown in meaning caused by the generic
loss of a habitual distinction. When the
distinction it being between subject and
object, self and other, life and death is
destroyed, then the abjection takes its
place. Abjection preserves what existed
at the archaic level of pre-objectal relationship, as Kristeva puts it, within the

abjection
n.
1. the condition of
being servile,
wretched, or contemptible.
2. the act of humiliating.
3. Mycol. the release of spores by
a fungus.

abject
adj.
1. utterly hopeless, miserable,
humiliating, or
wretched: abject
poverty.
2. contemptible;
despicable; basespirited: an abject
coward.
3. shamelessly
servile; slavish.
4. Obs. cast aside.

extreme violence as a condition of a body


becoming separated from another body
so as to be! Corpse serves as a primary
example, traumatically reminding us of
our own finitude and materiality; but

Corpse
serves as a
primary
example,
traumatically
reminding us
of our own
finitude and
materiality

so
does
Auschwitz as a symbol of a
particularly destructive, violent, and immoral event. Kristeva, describing abjection, uses the infinitive 'to fall', cadere in
French, hence cadaver, the corpse:
[M]y body extricates itself, as being
alive, from that border. Such wastes drop
so that I might live, until, from loss to
loss, nothing remains in me and my entire body falls beyond the limit cadere,
cadaver. If dung signifies the other side
of the border, the place where I am not
and which permits me to be, the corpse,
the most sickening of wastes, is a border
that has encroached upon everything. ...
'I' is expelled (1982: pp.3-4).
The corpse indicates the breakdown
of the distinction between subject and
object, that is, a loss of the crucial factor
in establishing self-identity: it therefore
exemplifies the concept of abjection.
In the psychoanalytic tradition, abjection is linked to the image of the splitting
mother thus to one's desire for separation,
for becoming autonomous accompanied
as such by the contradictory feeling of
the impossibility of performing this par-

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

ticular act. Kristeva imagines a child who


throws up trying to cleanse himself so as
to construct his own territory, edged by
abject (1982: 5). It is an attempt to release the hold of the symbolic umbilical
cord by means of the violent breaking
away from the womb, as if guided by
the logic of rejection, embedded in bodily structure. But because this body is
the only and immediate life-world known
by the I, the very act of the fall or separation leads to subject becoming a jettisoned object in this process. Thats why
Kristeva says, it is no longer I who expel, [but] I is expelled (1982: 4).
Kristeva borrows the notion of the excluded from Mary Douglas thereby affording abjection a greater, social dimension in terms of ritualistic prohibition
based on binary coding and resulting in
separation and segregation of gender,
class, race, age, language, or culture.

3. Two Images
3a). Background:
I had a paper published in 2000, that
is a year prior to 9/11, in Parallax (Leeds
University, CCS). This paper was called
Symbolism of the Tower as Abjection (Semetsky 2000). The paper interpreted the symbolism inscribed in The
Tower card in the Tarot deck (see transparency) in terms of Kristevas theory of
abjection.
The year after, in 2001, it was another
striking image that shook the real world:
the events on September 11. This is a
picture published on the Internet. Let us
take a minute of silence to look at it (see
transparency). So the start of the 21st
Century appears to be marked by the catastrophe that may be described as a
mark of what Kristeva called the dynamic of abjection, from paganism
through the whole of Western culture.
The Age of Abjection (as I call it) is permeated with a confrontation with the
Law where a symbolic child risks not
only castration but also the loss of its
whole being.

I am going to interpret the meaning of


the Tower image with the help of
Kristevas semanalysis, at both textual
(or rather, pictorial) level and at the level
of social reality (see first transparency,
content1. Semanalysis etc). (for
me, see Baudrillard, Requiem for the
Twin Towers). I will then suggest
that, in accord with semanalysis,
the destructive moment is in fact
embedded within a generative
constructive process, which
represents at once symbolic
and real construction of collective subjectivity within a
double process of negation
and identification. Therefore the very same moment is a marker of not
solely abjection but of
hope, this metaphysical concept elucidated recently by a
number of critical
theorists, including
Kristeva
(2002)
who
called such a
transformative
change a joyful revolt!

3b). Symbolism
The picture of the Tower, which in
some decks is called The Tower of Destruction, is one of the most dramatic,
horrifying and powerful images in the
Tarot deck. The images on The Tower
card, one of twenty-two major cards in a
deck, represent two human figures being
thrown out of a tower struck by lightning.
It is a fall, but not a free fall; it is a violent ejection. The figures' mouths are
gaping in horror; their eyes look and see
nothing. They are cast far into the deep.
The tower stands erect it is only its
crown that has been knocked down by
the blazing flames caused by lightning.
The two beings on the card have built the
tower and sealed it at the top: there is
no entry or exit. They have imprisoned
themselves in their own creation the

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

rigid, phallic, mental structure and the


only way out is through the agency of a
threatening, violent breaking force that
would necessarily bring along a traumatic, abject, experience.
The two figures are neither subjects nor objects. In the
midst of a crisis,
they are inbetween
t w o
categories, therefore beset
by
abjection (1982:
1) when literally positioned
between the binary opposites of
symbolic sky and
symbolic ground.
Lightning pierces the
sky above, and the
ground below is ruined
by earthquake. Or there
is no ground at all: some
decks portray a tempestuous sea. The violent fall
from the tower, the feeling
of the catastrophe amidst
thunder and lightning, brings
t w o figures, in Kristevas words, to
the border of [the] condition as a living
being (1982: 3) barely withstanding the
effect of a rapid and shocking change.
The falling bodies approach the limits of
human endurance; they seem in their suffering to exist between life and death because in this fall death [is] infecting
life (: 4). The symbolic fall is infinite
and feels like eternity, signified by two
figures caught up in a state of perpetual
suspension, indeed within the utmost of
abjection(: 4).
The mood of this image is permeated
with fear and uncertainty, confirming
Kristeva's claim that abjection is above
all ambiguity(: 9). The sense of
perpetual danger' (: 9) and an uncon-

The mood of
this image is
permeated
with fear and
uncertainty,
confirming
Kristeva's
claim that
abjection is
above all
ambiguity.
The sense of
perpetual
danger'
and an
unconscious
anticipation
of a shock

Kristeva,
speaking of
contradiction,
has stressed
that its very
conditions
were always
to be
understood as
heterogeneity...
when the loss
of unity, the
anchor of the
process cuts in
[and] the
subject in
process
discovers itself
as separated

scious anticipation of a shock, when I,


or subject the twisted braid of affects
and thoughts (: 1) - will eventually have
to hit the ground, makes the existence of
the still alive I unbearable. This part of
self that is 'I' is so desperate and feels
overwhelmed to such an extent that it
becomes greater than the self: an autonomous heavy body which is dissociated,
shattered into painful territories, parts
larger than the whole (kristeva 1998:
152sub in pro). The violent force, symbolized by the image of a sudden lightning, operates at the unconscious level: it
draws me toward the place where meaning collapses (1982: 2). This force becomes a sign of the breaking down of a
world that has erased its borders" (: 4).
Signification, according to Kristeva,
always functions as a fluctuation between
stability and instability, or static quality
and negation of a stasis. Symbolic lightning from above, by breaking the order
of things and so negating the stasis of
one's identity within the existing order,
simultaneously illuminates the way to the
new order and new identity, albeit
through abjection, an abject becoming an
ambiguous sign, a deject, a tireless...stray (1982: 8) situated in space
specified as essentially divisible, foldable and catastrophic (:8). The deject
never stops demarcating the universe.
[It] has a sense of danger, of the loss
that the pseudo-object attracting him
represents for him (:8). A sense of danger grows into the horror experienced by
deject-abject whose psyche is threatened
by the lightning aiming at the self-erected
structure. The inevitable force of the
thunderbolt threatens the stability of the
structure. The abject is driven to a
downfall that carries [it] along into the
invisible and unnameable... Never is the
ambivalence of drive more fearsome than
in this beginning of otherness (black
sun, 1888).
The Tower image is an embodiment
of ambivalence: at a symbolic level, this
card may be identified with the Tower of

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

Babel (in fact, it is portrayed in this manner in some decks -- show another transparency from the Lovers tarotand second transparency of destroyed towers, as
a skeleton). The Tower is a symbol of
false omnipotence and mistaken certainty, a priori condemned to destruction
during the most powerful and confusing
instance amidst persistent contradiction
when even an attempt to any meaningful
communication breaks down and fails.
Kristeva, speaking of contradiction, has
stressed that its very conditions were
always to be understood as heterogeneity... when the loss of unity, the anchor of
the process cuts in [and] the subject in
process discovers itself as separated (sub in proc.: 149). Indeed, the
Tower becomes a signifier of a sudden
end in the status quo of the state of affairs, it being either individual, or interpersonal, or collective and social. The
loss of identity, experienced in abjection,
prevents the figures on the picture from
being able to envisage or recognize the
moment of lightning. But the lightning
strikes nevertheless even if I remains
unconscious of the upcoming event: indeed, the impossible constitutes its very
being (: 5) and a brutish suffering that
'I' puts up with (: 2).
Lightning may be identified with a
symbol of a sudden and totally overpowering change in one's psychic state leading to a potentially overwhelming numinous alteration in consciousness. A flash
of lightning ... is discharged like thunder, says Kristeva, as though herself
peculiarly narrating the Tower picture,
and the time of abjection is double: a
time of oblivion and thunder, of veiled
infinity and the moment when revelation
bursts forth (: 9). The Tower card is an
index of abreaction, taking the form of
catharsis, that is, a dramatic and forceful
replay of the unconscious material in either personal or collective consciousness,
when indeed one's fortified castle begins
to see its walls crumble (: 48). However,
the enforced evacuation, breaking all defences, frees one from being incarcerated

in the symbolic tower of one's own making, whether it be psychological, ideological, cultural, or any other stagnant
belief system. The Tower represents any
unforeseen cataclysmic event, which suddenly brings people down to earth by
disturbing the existing norm and order of
things, while simultaneously by raising
ones level of consciousness providing
a set of conditions for a new order.
The change in one's consciousness
via abjection represents dialectics that
constitutes a double process of both negation and affirmation, which is embedded in the construction of identity. Negation is characterized by a temporary interruption in the periodic dynamic process, within which a pause appears, as
claimed by Kristeva, in a form of a surplus of negativity, which would ultimately destroy the balance of opposites.
That is why the deject is in short a stray.
... And the more he strays, the more he is
saved (: 8), that is constitution takes
place via negation, ultimately contributing to the organization of reality at a new
level that would have taken place in one's
construction of subjectivity. The breakdown in existing order simultaneously
creates conditions for the potential production of a new order. Thus both rejection and stasis, or negation and identification, considered by Kristeva to be the
essential elements of subjectivity, seem
to precede the mirror stage, providing
that the Lacanian mirror is taken metaphorically and not as solely predicated
upon a pre-oedipal infant. This means
that the dialectical process exists in its
semiotic, quasi-objective reality prior to
having become an object of recognition
when presented in a form of the iconic
sign (as the Tower card, for example).
The function of the sign thus becomes to
amplify (am-pli-fy, or unfold, where le
pli means the fold) the unconscious contents, so as to eventually permit the
recognition of the want on which any
being, meaning, language or desire is
founded (Kristeva 1982: 5).

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

Kristeva, acknowledging the presence


of a gap that exists between her analysands' verbal expressions and the affects
perceived by the analyst, points to the
loss of meaning in contemporary life due
to dissociation between affects and language: the words are meaningless because the psyche is empty. But the unconscious contents projected in the cards'
imagery indicate that the psyche is never
really empty even if unconscious of itself: its contents are constituted by signs,
which never mind their existing prior to
articulation are semiotically real and
informationally active because of their
capacity to affect. (NB: the logic of affects) The pragmatics of interpreting
Tarot images in terms of semanalysis is
to carry the signs over to the level of cognitive awareness, to articulate them into
readable symbols so as to bridge the said
gap by returning the meaning to its
bearer.
Kristeva emphasized the working of
imagination [in] the experience of the
want (1982: 5) that is, the realm which
is virtual, non-visible and logically preliminary to being and object (: 5) that
would find its signification in nothing but
the spoken language. Yet, by virtue of
pictorial semiotics, it is an implicit signification that appears prior to articulation
in its iconic and indexical (cf. Peirce)
mode. Respectively, this is signification
of the higher order, or meta-signification
founded upon interpretation: signs are
translated into words thus assigning
meaning to the imagery, permeated with
affects. Kristeva considered the affective
world to be enigmatic for the reason of it
being irreducible to the verbal mode of
expression. All affects exist only through
signs that stand for the
Psychic representations of energy displacements.... [whose] exact
status ...remains, in the present state of
psychoanalytic and semiological theories,
very vague. No conceptual framework in
the relevant sciences... has proven adequate to account for this apparently very

The change
in one's
consciousness
via abjection
represents
dialectics that
constitutes a
double process
of both
negation and
affirmation,
which is
embedded
in the
construction of
identity.

The collapse of
symbolic
Panopticon that
was founded on
the meticulous
organization
of space,
generates
chaos out of the
former order:
the abjection in
this case loses
its phobic
quality,
becoming not
only the power
of horror, as
Kristeva says,
but the power
of terror.

rudimentary representation, presign and spirit of terrorism, talks about the shift of
prelanguage (black sun: 192)
the struggle into the symbolic sphere
where an initial event as quite a good
However (and such is the thesis ad- illustration of chaos theory (2002: 23)
vanced in my earlier paper) Tarot images becomes subjected to unforeseeable conwhen functioning in a mode of pictorial sequences. Such a singular event like
semiotics (cf. Sebeok 1994), do enable the the destruction of Twin Towers on Sepshift of a subject-position from the infa- tember 11 propagates unpredictably,
mous abstract view from nowhere to the causing the chain of effects not just in
contextual and concrete view from the the direct economic, political, financial
here-and-now. Pictures function in the slump in the whole of the system and the
capacity of a modality of signifi- resulting moral and psychological downcance (b.s.: 193) for affects, moods and turn but the slump in the value-system
thoughts, which represent, as Kristeva per se (2002: 31-32). The collapse of the
says, inscriptions [or] energy disrup- towers represents the fact that the whole
tions... [that] become the communicable system has reached a critical mass which
imprints of affective reality, perceptible to makes it vulnerable to any aggresthe reader (b.sun.: 193). Any semiotic sion (2002: 33). Baudrillard points out
system as part of the typology of cultures that not only terrorism itself is blind but
needs certain means
for
its so were the real towers no longer openidentification
ing to the outside world, but subject to
within a field of
artificial conditioning (2002: 43):
communicative
air conditioning, or
and social relamental contions. Culture
ditioning
itself could be
alike, simiseen as a set
lar to the
of texts inTower on the
scribed in
picture that
collective
was sealed at
memory
the top when
(Lotman
struck
by
1990), and
lightning.
texts, as we
said earlier, need
The collapse of
not be exclusively
symbolic Panoplinguistic.
ticon that was
founded on the
lous organization of
3c). Social reality meticuspace,
generates
chaos
out of the former
The symbolic Tower of Destruction
order:
the
abjection
in
this
case loses its
may be erected not only on an individual
phobic
quality,
becoming
not
only the
level but also on the collective one. In the
power
of
horror,
as
Kristeva
says,
but the
feminist interpretation (Gearhart & Renpower
of
terror.
It
turns
instead
into
the
nie, 1981) The Tower signifies radical
intervention, revolution and the over- unleashed rage of violence against viothrowing of false consciousness, violent lence when the long repressed emotions
social conflict and change, destruction of and implicit feelings concerning the state
the old order on a grand scale, and release of affairs, when deprived of expression,
from imprisonment in the patriarchal explode and spill out from their ... constructure during the very process of its tainer (Casey 1997: 323). No longer prodemolition. Jean Baudrillard (2002), in his jected inward, the released violence beanalysis, or as he says, analogon, of the comes directed into the space where the

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

abject does not respect borders, positions, rules (kristeva 1982: 4). This is
indeed abjection [that] allows us to move
beyond the Law of the Father (Bogue &
Cornis-Pope 1996: 10). In a sense, there is
jouissance in this process: Kristeva states
that subjects that are victims of the abject
are its fascinated victims (1982: 9).
Quite significant is the fact that the
card immediately preceding The Tower
in a deck is called The Devil, and is traditionally interpreted in terms of fear,
bondage, submissiveness, and sexual or
economic dependency. (transparency). It
represents the absence of freedom, the
lack of hope, and the total powerlessness
that tend to, as Baudrillard says, crystallize and then, at the critical level, begin to
spread spontaneously until reaching the climax in
t h e
consequent card,
the Tower.
Psychologically, the image of the
Devil is the
embodiment of the
powerful,
either
individual
or
collective,
Shadow that lurks behind
the scenes and may indicate, very
much in Nietzschean sense, the ultimate
slave morality in the relationship between
oppressor and oppressed, even if the interplay of forces involved in this interaction
subsists at the unconscious level only. It
represents a moment of psychological denial and implementing a scapegoat policy,
while projecting onto the other ones
own inferior and shadowy qualities. It is
only when a set of relations becomes totally unbearable for the psyche, infusing it
with fears and phobias, then the next symbol, the Tower, comes forward. Or, rather
vice versa, when the effect produced by
The Tower crosses over the boundary
between the Symbolic and the Real, then

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

the breaking down of the current status


quo becomes unavoidable.
Revolt against may turn into revolt for:
ambiguity leads to appropriation of the
other, that Other who precedes and possesses me, and through such possession
causes me to be, as Kristeva says (1982:
10). Jouissance? Yes, but one that borders
on a violent passion. The joy is highly
problematic indeed: it is only jouissance
for as long as the power is distributed
properly. The joy of destruction, if over
determined, may contribute to erecting yet
another Tower, to replacing one Symbolic
Order with another. Baudrillard calls it a
state of total control, a terror, which is
now based on law-and-order measures
(2002: 32). However, the historicity is in
the place and in place: it is so inscribed in
the genealogy of space that any tower attracts lightning and is destined, sooner or
later, to be blasted by a thunderbolt. The subject, if not
in process,
is spaced-out
and, respectively, is out
of place both
symbolically
and
literally:
the space of the
subject collapses
in on itself and the
subject
without
psychic space is prey to
aggressive
drives and paranoid
projections of the kind exhibited in misogyn y, na t i ona l i s m, r a c i s m a nd
war (Kirkby 1998: 111).

4. From Abjection to
Hope
One's sealed world was initially created due to the presence of the primary,
unconscious, and narcissistic desire to
imprison oneself in the Tower. The image
of expulsion from the Tower seems to be,
as Kristeva says, the logical mode of this
permanent aggressivity, and the possibil-

The subject,
when
functioning in
its capacity of
the abjective
self, becomes
animated by
expulsion, by
abjecting the
abject
(negating the
negation).

A semiotic
significance of
the iconic signs
is justified by
their functioning in the mode
of a site of a
subject-inprocess who,
instead of
sounding
himself as to
his 'being',
does so
concerning his
place: 'Where
am I?' instead
of 'Who am I?'

ity of its being positioned and thus renewed. Though destructive, a 'death
drive', expulsion is also the mechanism of
relaunching, of tension, of life (sub in
proc: 144), that is, its function doubles to
play a creative role in one's construction
of subjectivity and transformation of reality. The subject, in a process of identifying with the meaning of the Tower image,
is able to recognize its own shifting identity as abject. The subject, when functioning in its capacity of the abjective self,
becomes animated by expulsion, by abjecting the abject (negating the negation).
As Kristeva points out, such an identification facilitates control, on the part of the
subject, a certain knowledge of the process, a certain relative arrest of its movement, all of which are the conditions for
its renewal and are factors which prevent
it from deteriorating into a pure void (sub
in pro, 149) -- the zero degree of subjectivity.

31) following catharsis represented, as we


said, by the Tower.

A semiotic significance of the iconic


signs is justified by their functioning in
the mode of a site of a subject-in-process
who, instead of sounding himself as to
his 'being', does so concerning his
place: 'Where am I?' instead of 'Who am
I?' For the space that engrosses the deject,
the excluded, is never one, nor homogeneous, nor totalizable, but essentially divisible, foldable and catastrophic (1982: 8).
This ambiguous space is called a strange
place, a chora, a receptacle (: 14): a
subject-in-process being always already
constituted by conflicting desires and perverse drives, which are 'energy' charges
as well as 'psychical' marks (Rev 1984:
25) creating an enfolded field of forces in
action that need to be unfolded in semanalysis. The term borrowed from Plato,
chora's original meaning is a connective
link between realms of the intelligible and
Thus, although the interpretation of the the sensible, implying a quality of transicard when indeed revelation bursts tion or passage, a bridge albeit invisible
forth (1982: 9) seems by itself to be a and in itself formless between the two.
violent act, in a sense of its shattering
one's set of privileged beliefs such a
Chora is a site saturated by forces, itviolence of expulsion, a sort of the nega- self a vital and moving force (Casey
tion of negation as experienced by the 1997: 324). By means of it being a space
subject, rejects the effects of delay (sub surrounding the Tower, the place where
in proc: 153) and hence rather than abject is supposed to stray, chora indicates
breaking the subject contributes to mak- the polyvalence of the Tower image. This
ing the subject anew, to re-making it! For card represents a container that is sealed
this reason, the image of the Tower card yet open and having an oxymoronic
sometimes serves as a sign not of a break- structure: it is an open/enclosure (: 325).
down but a breakthrough, albeit in both Kristeva, acknowledging the dynamic and
cases necessarily indicating the abruptly even organizing character of chora, as
terminated current psychological state or a a ... totality formed by the drives and
break-up in a set of values privileged by a their states in a motility that is as full of
given culture. Significantly, the polyva- movement as it is regulated (Rev 25),
lence of the image that follows the Tower stresses its provisional and nonexpressive
in a deck, The Star, (transparency) con- quality within the limits of verbal disnotes the field of meanings which include course. In the mode of pictorial semiotics,
healing, hope, inspiration, and creativity however, chora becomes effectively extherefore semiotically transmitting the pressive as the discursive boundaries exmessage that no destruction is final. In pand to incorporate the non-verbal,
fact, this card is sometimes called this translinguistic mode of a paradoxical
way: The Star of Hope. Analogously, semiotic articulation (sub in proc 142)
Kristeva points to the possibility of rebirth with and against abjection (1982:
On the Tower picture, a space occu-

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

pied by the subject in process is unstable and ambivalent:


an archaic divided self, by virtue of its very (dis)
placement in the chora, is represented by a multiplicity
of expulsions (subj 134), the primary function of which
is self-destruction or the death drive. Still, it is an amorphous space, the rhythmicity of which resonates with the
pulsations of labour when giving birth: ultimately, therefore, chora fulfils its generative and creative purpose, as
represented by the figure of the naked woman on the next
card, the Star. Structure-less, chora can be designated
solely by its function which is explicitly feminine: to engender, to provide the caring conditions or rather, in its
relational economy, to be the condition, the symbolic
home for regeneration, re-birth, and the genesis of new
forms.
In her recent interview with Mary Zournazi (2002),
Kristeva present hope as a transformative, humanistic,
and even religious idea. Pointing to the destruction of
psychic space in the current ideological climate, she says
that our hope for a positive and joyful revolt (Kristeva
2002: 64), that is, a transformation in our critical thinking
up to the point of inventing new ways of living is embedded in the economy of care. Care, as a type of psy-

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 10

choanalytic cure, is a concern for others, and a consideration for their ill-being(2002: 66). The loss of hope
is what is feeding terror, and it was precisely on September 11, 2001, when Kristeva re-defined her idea of revolt
that enables one to move into a space of hope. She calls it
a process of re-evaluation of the psyche that constitutes
the renewal of the self, which embodies events that she
calls symbolic mutations (:76). The fall of Berlin Wall,
or the drama of the Russian Kursk, or the planes hitting
the World Trade Centre those singular events provide
experiential conditions for transformation because they
are embedded in the very logic of symbolic
change (2002: 75). Revolt thus presupposes the very
necessity of the symbolic deconstruction, the symbolic
renewal, which comes from creation psychic creation,
aesthetic creation, rebirth of the individual (:76). In
short (de)construction means the expansion of consciousness in terms of healing, hope, and the flow of
creativity, all these attributes represented by the imagery
of the Star. The semiotics of pictures creates their own
text, the semanalysis of which provides those other
means, symbolic or imaginary (black sun: 391) that
serve as an example of the economy of care and hope in
the aftermath of destruction. 

Mikhail Bakhtins
American Legacy:
Metamorphoses
and the Practice
of Cultural Theory (excerpt)

by Kenneth J. Knoespel

How then are we


to explain the
grotesquely
anachronistic
influence of
Bakhtins
thought? How
are we to
account for the
position of a
nonMarxist,
nonFormalist,
nonFreudian,
nonStructuralist,
nonexistentialist,
noncollectivist,
nonutopian,
nontheologian?

his lecture considers the evolving


status of Mikhail Bakhtin within
American scholarship and gives
special attention to the reception of
Bahktins work in the American academy
in the past decades and what it both reveals and conceals about the relations
between literary scholarship in the
United States and Russia.The first part of
the lecture provides an overview of Bakhtins presence in the United States by
giving particular attention to the ideologies that should be recognized in his reception. The second part notices particular elements of Bakhtins work and the
ways they are contributing to the ongoing
emergence of cultural studies in North
America. The third part explores aspects
of Bakhtins work that deserve further
attention. Here I will ask how Vladimir
Bibler and Anatoly Akhutin extend questions raised by Bakhtin. Just as Bakhtins
study of discourse structures within the
novels of Dostoevsky provided a way of
thinking about the cognitive bridging in
the imaginary space of literature, an important aspect of his work may also be
applied to the study of scientific and
technological texts. I will conclude by
noticing how Bakhtin challenges readers
to ask how we generate and use the socio
-cultural constructions such as epoch
and period used to bridge cultural relations at the end of the 20th century and to

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 9

characterize history itself. I will suggest


that Bakhtin capacity to ask how
transcultural synchronisms work to both
bring together and separate cultural experience may be identified as a major
feature of his extensive legacy.
How then are we to explain the
grotesquely anachronistic influence of
Bakhtins thought? How are we to account for the position of a non Marxist,
nonFormalist, nonFreudian, nonStructuralist, nonexistentialist, noncollectivist,
nonutopian, nontheologian? In short, how
can we account for a scholar who appears
a non-modernist but who became the
very subject of a post-modernist bakhtinskii boom? The questions posed by
Vitaly Makhlin for Russian colleagues in
1992 confront anyone who surveys the
links between Bakhtins writings let
alone their bearing in a post-modernist
American landscape that seems to change
under our feet as we speak.1 Although I
hardly can begin to answer Makhlins
questions from a Russian vantage point, I
would like to venture a few observations
of my own on the extraordinary metamorphosis of Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin within an American setting.
Since there are many Bakhtins, I
would like to clarify at the outset the
frames that I am using to approach Bak-

htin. Russian and Euro-American scholars together now divide Bakhtins work
and life (1895-1975) into five periods: 1)
His early life as the son of a merchant
family from the Orel region (gymnasium
years in Vilnius and Odessa) to university studies in Petersburg and his degree
in classical studies in 1918); 2) the time
in Nevel/Vitebsk (19191924) where he taught
language and literature and explored
formalist linguistics; 3) his return
to
Leningrad
(Petrograd),
(1924-1929)
where he continued his group
work on formalism. (And when
he lived for a
short period of
time with his
wife at Peterhof); 4) the
period of being on the
margins: exile
(Kazakhstan) and
teaching (Saransk, Savelovo) from 1930
to the early 1950s; 5) a late period between 1950s and 1975 when he received
a degree for his work on Rabelais and
becomes reassimilated into Russian literary culture. As the Bakhtin bibliography
shows, the sifting and resifting through
each of these periods has been a complicated task. (My single-handout offers a
chronology of Bakhtins work as well as
Russian and American publication dates.)
A detailed affirmation of Bakhtins
accomplishment together with an implicit
prediction of its importance for the future
appears in Caryl Emersons book, The
First Hundred Years of Mikhail Bakhtin.
The 1999 book on Bakhtin by Ken
Hirschkop, Mikhail Bakhtin: An Aesthetic for Democracy carries special importance because of its meticulous review of the archival problems surround-

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 9

ing Bakhtins manuscripts and their Russian publication. As both Emerson and
Hirschkop know, it is hardly an exaggeration to talk about a Bakhtin industry.
Bakhtin has become a scholarly equivalent of a Medieval poet whose texts have
been so dispersed that one is continually
confronted with questions of authenticity
or chronology. Indeed Bakhtins legacy
hardly depends on the web
sites or digital versions of his work
but on a painstaking
assembly of a mass
of material. This
archival work pertains not only to
Bakhtin but to the
complex dissemination of intellectual activity during
the Soviet period.
From such a vantage
point,
Bakhtin
should not be isolated but taken as a
mark of the important scholarship that
took place during the
Soviet period. My
r e marks this afternoon
will hardly create a whole Mikhail
Bakhtin but will instead suggest that the
legacy of Bakhtin in the United States
has gone through several stages. Rather
than simply providing a historical overview, however, I will argue that the most
important work on Bakhtin is our own
contemporary work.

Ideologies of
Reception
A fundamental mark of Bakhtins
critical philosophy involves his challenge
that we become aware that the language
with which we work is never ours alone.
In sharp contrast to poetic theory that
would individualize the experience of
language--a kind of Cartesian poetics
Bakhtin reminds us that we are in continuous conversation with others. Such a

Bakhtin has
become a
scholarly
equivalent of a
Medieval poet
whose texts
have been
so dispersed
that one is
continually confronted with
questions of
authenticity
or chronology.

cognitive and dialogical understanding of


language requires us to acknowledge that
the reception of Bakhtin is hardly neutral
but that it is received into a developed
intellectual network. Indeed in that even
our discussions at this conference are
hardly neutral but must be approached
from our already being engaged.

If we wish,
we may ask
about the
perception
or distortion
of the Soviet
Union
through the
lens of the
iron curtain.
What was
seen and
what was
not seen
through this
lens?

Certainly it is necessary at the outset


to recognize that the Cold War has functioned as a filter of reception in the case
of Bakhtin. If we wish, we may ask about
the perception or distortion of the Soviet
Union through the lens of the iron curtain. What was seen and what was not
seen through this lens? Whether one considers the anti-communist work of generations, the Soviet Union was often
translated into a dangerous and sometimes exotic landscape. Of course, the
landscape was filtered again by a distinction between the Soviet Union and the
Russians. It is interesting that one finds
no references to Bakhtin in the work of
Isaiah Berlin who certainly functioned as
one of the cultural filters of Cold War
ideology. While the Soviets were evil,
the Russians could represent an even
greater ideal of humanity. The Cold War
intensified the western romance of the
Russian nineteenth century. Within such
a setting, Bakhtin became first and foremost a figure that followed the American
discovery of Boris Pasternak, Nadezhda
Mandelstahm, and Joseph Brodsky. But
how then was Bakhtin read? Was it his
intellectual work that was most significant or his figure as another Russian
intellectual who suffered more than we
can imagine? Intellectual or saint within
a moral drama? Where should we place
Bakhtin in our own academic carnivals?
Since I raise these questions allow me
to give an overview of my own engagement in Bakhtin. I think that I first heard
the name Bakhtin at the University of
Wisconsin where Professor Stephen
Nichols, a student of Rene Wellek, talked
about Rabelais and His World in a 1968
graduate seminar on the history of liter-

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 9

ary theory. For a more detailed encounter, I needed to wait until I had visited the
Soviet Union for the first time in 1971.
While teaching at the University of Uppsala (1970-73), I often spoke with Annika Bckstm, a Swedish scholar of
Russian literature whose scholarship and
translation of Marina Tsvetaeva, Vladimir Admoni, and Joseph Brodsky introduced names that I would never have
encountered in the United States. When I
returned to the United States and began
my graduate studies at the University of
Chicago in1974, one of my first encounters with my professors in comparative
literature was with the Russian Slavist
Edward Wasiolek who was in the process
of editing Dostoevskys notebooks. A
year or so later when I first read Rabelais, I approached it as a work related to
my own work in Medieval and Renaissance literature. Here, I thought, was a
Russian Johann Huizinga. Almost at the
same time I encountered the novelistic
Bakhtin who challenged me to think
about the polyphonic structure of Ovids

Metamorphoses and its relation to universal


history. From the
same time, I have a
defined memory of
meeting Anatoly
Liberman, from
the University of
Minnesota, who
talked
about
Bakhtin in regard to Gogal.
In the later
1980s
my
e nc ount e r s
with Bakhtin were closely
related to Tzvetan Todorov,7
Franticek Galan (another Wellek student)
and Lindsay Waters, the visionary editor
first at the University of Minnesota and
now at Harvard University Press.
In 1991 another trip to Russia introduced me to Daniel Alexandrov and ongoing Russian work on Bakhtin.
Discussions with Yuri
Treyakov and Tatiana
Treyakova brought the
Euro-American Bakhtin closer to the Russian
Bakhtin. My own work as
editor for Configurations
allowed me to organize a
workshop with Michael
Holquist, Daniel Alexandrov, and Anton Struchkov in Atlanta in 1993
and it was this workshop
that led to the publication
of a special issue of Configurations devoted to Communities of
Science and Culture in Russian Science
Studies. Since 1993 my work with Bakhtin has involved research into the scientific discourse as well as into the epochal
dimension of dialogics.10 I have been
struck in thinking about how my encounters with Bakhtin are never simply encounters with Bakhtin but encounters
through teachers, colleagues, and students. Such mediated encounters are an

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 9

immediate reminder of the multiple


voices that participate in the formulation
of a single figure.
From the vantage
point of 1968, (the time
of my own incidental
encounter with Bakhtin) it is important to
recall that Bakhtin
was received by a
generation that had
studied Erich Auerbach, Ernst Curtsius, and Leo
Spitzer.
Each
scholar stands not
only for a body of historiographic
and philological criticism but for an often
unacknowledged task of rebuilding and
reaffirming the value of European and
German humanities after the Second
World War. Auerbach himself calls attention to this in his afterward to Mimesis where he
describes a scholarship without access to a library. Auerbach was read in thousands
of classrooms from the 1950
- 1970s. What is so striking
is the way that Bakhtins
rediscovery in the Soviet
Union intersects with the
rebuilding of the humanities
in an American setting.
More particularly, Bakhtin
was received by a generation
of American criticism influenced by pre-second world
war scholarship. The reception of Bakhtin within such a
setting in many ways affirms Bakhtins
own reading of German criticism in the
1920s and 30s. What is so remarkable
is that the scholarly figure of Bakhtin
begins to be assembled in the 1960s by
academic communities who were reading
works that he had read decades earlier.
What draws the disparate groups together
is not the Marburg School of German
philosophy but the efforts to retain an
identity of western culture during a cen-

What is so
remarkable
is that the
scholarly
figure of
Bakhtin
begins to be
assembled in
the 1960s by
academic
communities
who were
reading works
that he had
read decades
earlier.

tury that Hobsbawm has described a the century of warfare. The work of Michael Holquist serves as a good
example of Bakhtins integration with early twentiethcentury German philosophy and since I can hardly review the connections here I must refer people to Holquists introduction to Art and Answerability.
But if American reception of Bakhtin is influenced by German scholars, it is accomplished by
Russian migr scholars. It was Roman Jacobson
and Kyrstyna Pomorska who supervise the publication of Rabelais and Pomorska who writes the
introduction. The formalist-interest of Jakobson
and Pomorska deserves special attention. For Pomorska, Bakhtin offers an opportunity not only to
review tenants of Russian Formalism but also to
show how Bakhtin has extended its application.
The author is no longer confined to the verbal
language but investigates and compares different
sign systems such as verbal, pictorial, and gestural. In the book on Dostoevsky Bakhtin had already mentioned that his analysis of the dialogue/
monologue structure actually belongs to a
metalingual level. In the present study he has
proved to be most consistent in this creative development. The critic presents Rabelais work in
the richest context of medieval and Renaissance
cultures, treating them as systems of multiform
signs.
What should be emphasized as well is that unlike
many Russian theorists, beginning in 1968, Bakhtin becomes of interest not simply to Slavists but to a broad
range of professors and students in the study of literature. In reviewing recent research on Bakhtin for this
lecture, I expected to be overwhelmed by articles and
books that testified both to the Bakhtin industry in the
United States and to multiple theoretical personalities
that had been created for Bakhtin. In large part what I
expected was true but I also discovered that it might be
more realistic to speak not so much of a Bakhtin industry as a Bakhtin laboratory. While it is certainly possible
to discover many instances of Bakhtin being torn away
from a Russian intellectual setting and even more being
torn away from Russian, it is important to see that Bakhtins migration has also challenged the often isolated
position of Slavic departments in the United States. In
effect, Bakhtin has become a cross-over figure that
has brought Russian theory even in English Departments. One reason may be located in the importance of
Rene Wellek who drew such attention to the history of

Absurdist Monthly ReviewIssue 9

cultural theory during the 1960s. I think an even more


important reason is found in influence of French philosophy and theory during the 1960s.
1968 marked the publication not only of Bakhtins
Rabelais but also of Jacques Derridas Grammatology.
What is noteworthy is that in retrospect it is possible to
see that the publication of one did indeed have a bearing
on the other. Although there is no time here for great
detail, it is important to recognize how the obscurity of
new French criticism worked to bring together the
formalist and neo-Kantian of Bakhtins reception. The
integration of different methodology becomes reinforced
by the challenges posed by the complex reception of
French criticism at the end of the 1960s. While many
theoreticians may be cited, let me mention only three:
Derrida, Foucault, and Lacan. In contrast to formalist
study of language, Derrida sought to detect the ways in
which language functions self-referentially. Deconstruction works through a practice of building neologisms or
neo-logical sites from which logical order could be
tested. In fact, in practice deconstruction is closely related to mathematical analysis. If we wish, it is possible
to see how deconstruction provides Anglo-American
education tools with which it may decode unacknowledged logical structure that had become encoded in language. Even more simply, deconstruction provided English speakers with a vehicle for revealing the ways that
religious ideology shaped experience. If deconstruction
offered a means for asking questions about the costs of
unquestioned recourse to religion, Foucaults work
asked about the ways in which language may be used to
conceal institutional power. Foucaults work proceeds
not as a commentary on Marxist sociology but develops
a far more eclectic approach that seeks to gather tools
from multiple disciplines. The psychoanalytic turn
marked by Lacan represents another component of the
setting in which Bakhtin was received.
The combination of Derrida, Foucault, and Lacan
and the multitude of interpreters that explored their writing provided (and still provides) a setting for the reception of Bakhtin. Put in the simplest terms, the
American recognition of Bakhtin does not mark the
simple discovery of a great Russian theoretician, but
also a strong reaction against or, at the very least, an
interrogation of French theory. Contrary to the philosophical abstraction of French theory, Bakhtin offered a
means of integrating formalist theory with German hermeneutics. Even more he located the focal point for research in literature.