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Refusing to Remain Figurative

Notes towards Day 9 of
Critical Feminist Studies

"Refusing to Remain Figurative"
"Each of these poems exists, finally, because a child does not....
the poem is trying to include what is by its own grammar excluded...
to animate through language...."

--Barbara Johnson, "Apostrophe, Animation and Abortion"
I. coursekeeping
--your first set of papers (to return; my responses also on-line w/ links!) &
a response to all of you

--syllabus adjustments:
BECAUSE Susan Stryker is visiting next Thursday, 10/11:
read interview with her, two essays by her in GLQ

--combining Anzaldúa and Martin/Mohanty for THIS Thursday (sign-up to chose one to teach others)
--reading Lauter for next Tuesday (handout: 2 missing pps!
--> come to class/post before class a "menu" for remainder of course
--meeting w/ me by/on next Friday, 10/12 (plus various other sign-ups...)

BECAUSE! by 5 p.m. Fri, Oct. 12: 4-pp. proposal due on-line, describing the critical feminist project you are going to take on this semester: What questions interest you? How will you pursue them? With what assistance?
II. where we left off, with Cixous--> Nora?


III. small group discussions of Gwendolyn Brooks' 1945 poem, "The Mother"

language's capacity to give life is literalized
debate about when a being assumes human form
reader is aborted/aborter? (I/you confused)
uncertain control of subject, of children's status as objects
question of deliberateness/agency (of pregnancy, autonomy)?
difference because no symmetrical oppositions?
Gilligan on redefining logic of choice (when none are good)
impossible to humanize both mother and aborted children?
language inadequate to resolve dilemma without violence?
if apostrophized, kept alive? absolves self by never forgetting?

IV. reporting back--> with the next set of questions?
what sorts of frameworks did you use to discuss the poem?

  • personal?
  • theoretical?
  • linguistic?
  • philosophical?
  • psychoanalytic?
  • political?
  • structual?
  • grammatical?
  • aesthetic?

    what tools are most useful to you, in reading a poem?
  • in reading THIS poem?


    V. Barbara Johnson's "Apostrophe, Animation and Abortion":
    "The verbal development of the infant, according to Lacan, begins as a demand addressed to the mother, out of which the entire universe is spun. Yet the mother addressed is somehow...not a person---a personification of presence or absence, of Otherness..."

    "demand is the originary vocative"

    "lyric poetry...comes to look like the...history of...displacements of the single cry, 'mama!'"

    "something...refuses to remain comfortably and conventionally figurative"

    "There is politics precisely because there is undecidability."

    Once again: what is the relationship between
    these two "dark continents,"
    the psychoanalytic and the philosophical,
    the psychological and the political?

    VI. Jacques Lacan (1901-1981)
    a French practictioner & theorist of psychoanalysis who used structuralist linguistics to revise Freud's biological theory of the unconscious and of gender differentiation. Lacan focused on the entry of children into the "symbolic," into the signifiying system of language, as a result of the break-up of the priordial unity with the mother. His work focuses on "the lack" (language arises from the lack of the "real"), on the the "mirror stage," on "object relations."

    o write the world is to make the world:
    Lacan described three phases of development: the Real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic.

    • In the first stage, of the Real, the baby is just a blob driven by NEEDS, which can be satisfied; this is the psychic place of fullness and completeness.
    • In the second stage, as the infant begins to form her own identity, she becomes aware of her separation from her mother, and develops DEMANDS for her recognition. This is when the mirror stage occurs: the baby experiences its body as fragmented, or in pieces--whatever part it sees is there just when it is seen, and disappears otherwise. But at some point, seeing itself in a mirror, the baby has the illusion that it is a whole person. Lacan calls this a misrecognition, a fantasy; which is why he terms this phase, of demand and mirroring, the realm of the Imaginary...the experience of the Imaginary prepares the child to take up a position
    • in the third stage, that of the Symbolic, she learns to use language to cross the gulf between the self and what she lacks, what she desires. For Lacan what is @ this point desired-- to be the center of the system (of language, of culture)--is definitionally not fulfillable.

    Apostrophe, Lack, and the Generation of Narrative Meaning:
    The larger question, for me, is this one: if, as Lacan taught us, language is an index to loss (we only use words if we lack the thing itself; the very use of langauge is a mark of absence), is language most accurately/most usefully understood as emerging out of a sense of loss or out of plenitude--especially a plenitude of others who will encourage, listen and respond to the narratives we construct? Are we more generative in creating imaginative worlds when the one in which we live is "narratively impoverished" (whatever THAT means...) or rich?
    Narrative is determined not by a desire to narrate but by a desire to exchange.
    (Roland Barthes, S/Z)

    VII. further linguistic, psychological, philosophical, political implications....?

    Scott Gilbert (Swarthmore Biology)
    vcruz, biology 103, F07,
    Discussion continues in the Course Forum Area....
    go there and add your thoughts!