Lyric Poetry: The Pain and the Pleasure of Words

By Mutlu Konuk Blasing | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
THE SCRIPTED “I”

THE ERATO-GENIC “I”

Erato is the lyric muse, and eros is a generic subject matter of the lyric. Thus, what relation the pains and pleasures of lyric language may bear to sexuality is an askable question, and it may be posed in terms of the relation of the lyric subject to the psychosexual subject that is concurrently formulated in the mother tongue. Language learning and erotogenic formulation of a coherent body are inextricable processes, and pleasure in language has an erotic resonance, just as erotic pleasure has a linguistic aspect.

Pleasure will not reduce to an organic function because it has a history. Serge Leclaire's account of this history is most germane to the linguistic history that I am focusing on. The erotogenic body, he proposes, is a symbolic or represented body comprising a set of zones selected through a series of “originary” representations (1998, 44–45). An area of the body experiences an “immediately accessible, felt difference—pleasure or unpleasure”—and registers the mark of that difference, and the erotogenic body is formulated as a text bearing the memory traces of these sensations (46).1 The “textual” inscription of the erotogenic body on the undifferentiated physiological body of the infant entails a process of selection and zoning of the body into surfaces and is concurrent with the selection and zoning of acoustic into phonemic phenomena.

The inscription of erotogenic zones thus effects another passage from sensations to signifying marks. An erotogenic zone is a signifying zone, a repeatable “letter trace” of what cannot be repeated, an originary representation of a bliss that exists only as a memory trace marking its loss. The letter that “fixates and annuls jouissance” (Leclaire 1998, 53) is both a trope of a trace—a pleasurable or unpleasurable experience leaves a mnemic trace “in the form of a graphic, acoustic, visual, tactile, or olfactory trait” (93)—and rather literally a letter trace, as Leclaire shows in case analyses of the recurrent literal linkages that make for symptoms. Thus “To take the body literally is … to learn to spell out the orthography of the name composed by the erotogenic zones that constitute it” (59). Each letter fixes a singular zone of pain or pleasure, and one's body is as distinct as a “secret name” made up of one's singular letters.2 Again, this is quite literally the case, for the letters of names come into play in the inscription of the body, and often there is a “resemblance between a patient's fundamental phantasm and his name” (83).

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