Materiality of Language

As my practice-based painting research has become engaged in the procuring of pigments, the written components of my thesis should reflect the experiencing of matter using its own kind of physical resonance. In this semiotic realm, Julia Kristeva’s Revolution in Poetic Language 1974 and its exploration by Kelly Oliver in Ethics, Politics, and Difference in Julia Kristeva’s Writing provide insights into writing as practice.

What approaches are available or possible in writing about material process or analyzing material culture? It is clear that psychoanalytical overtones are always present in exegetic text but need not be explicit, poetic license being therefore invited to allow the “textual presence” particular to a “writing subject” liberty. Leon S. Roudiez elucidates Kristeva’s dialectical notion concerning the nature of a text for the purpose of “textual analysis” in the introduction to Revolution,

The text that is analyzed is actually the effect of the dialectical interplay between semiotic and symbolic dispositions. Here it would be helpful to keep in mind the etymology of the word and think of it as a texture, a “disposition or connection of threads filaments, or other slender bodies, interwoven” (Webster 2). The analogy stops there, however, for the text cannot be thought of as a finished, permanent piece of cloth; it is in a perpetual state of flux as different readers intervene, as their knowledge deepens, and as history moves on. The nature of the “threads” thus interwoven will determine the presence or absence of poetic language. Those that are spun by drives and are woven within the semiotic disposition make up what Kristeva has defined as a genotext; they are actualized in poetic language. Those that issue from societal, cultural, syntactical, and other grammatical constraints constitute the phenotext; they ensure communication. Seldom, however, does one encounter the one without the other…it is often the physical, material aspect of language (certain combinations of letters, certain sounds – regardless of the meaning of words in which they occur) that signals the presence of a genotext.

Finding words that fulfill their role as communicators of matter in its sensual entirety or in addition indirectly relay unutterable (or peripheral) physical or psychological experiences is one challenge (genotext). Conceiving of the structural context in which such words can emerge while enabling understanding is another challenge (phenotext).

In reflecting on the former task, I am tempted to state my dissatisfaction with the English language regarding its combinations of letters and sounds. I have found Magyar and Kunwinjku much more enticing. In reflecting on the latter task, my approach has been that of a diarist, a form of writing practice familiar to me having kept daily diaries from age 12-18. While returning to this practice has not been difficult, the transformation of this unedited vernacular style into something worthy of inclusion in a thesis haunts me.

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