Academic journal article The Romanic Review

"Nous Deux" or a (Hi)story of Intertextuality

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

"Nous Deux" or a (Hi)story of Intertextuality

Article excerpt

Allow me a confession: I love your country. If I were to die tomorrow, I think I could say today that I have lived the best moments of my personal and professional life here, on the American continent. I love its immensity, this landscape, which seems to open towards an unknown promise, the naive and sometimes brutal freshness of its inhabitants, always entrepreneurial, rhythmical and "jazzed," the speed and simplicity of your streets and of your Academia.

Still, initially there seemed to be no predestination in my affection for America. It is perhaps useless to tell you that in my native Bulgaria, after the war, Uncle Sam was not in fashion: we hardly appreciated the American "milk powder" that was sent to our schools; we used to mock the American cult of "Coca Cola," described by Communist propaganda as a drug, and we disliked America profoundly for the Korean War.

When I arrived in Paris, the war in Vietnam was at its climax and we used to protest against American bombardments. It was then that Rene Girard, having attended my first presentation on Bakhtin in Roland Barthes' seminar, invited me to teach at the University of Baltimore. I could not see myself collaborating with the "cops of the world" and in spite of the dialectic advice that I got from my professor, Lucien Goldmann, "My dear, American imperialism has to be conquered from the inside," I honestly did not think myself capable of doing that. So, I remained in France. It was 1966. Several years later, in 1972, I met Professor Leon Roudiez, from Columbia University, at the Colloque de Cerisy on Artaud and Bataille. That's how I made my first trip to New York in 1973. Ever since, I have been a Visiting Professor in the Department of French of this university, which, without improving the quality of my English, has at least helped me in making many friends and accomplices in the very special context of American Academia: Michael Riffaterre, Domna Stanton, Tom Bishop, Toril Moi, Alice Jardine, Nancy Miller, Ann Caplan, and Kerry Oliver.

After all this experience, I need to acknowledge what seems to me to be the most important quality of American civilization, which also explains why I enjoy my freedom to work in the American Academe, namely, its hospitality. Running away from communism to France, I did not encounter this hospitality over there, although France has given me my French nationality for which I will always be grateful. Paralyzed in its administrative and cultural tradition, and at the same time trying to free itself from this, my adoptive country promotes stunning innovations such as the artistic, philosophical and theoretical avant-gardes that have seduced me and have made its glory abroad. At the same time, it promotes a violent rejection, if not hatred toward these innovations. Contrastingly, America seems to me to be a territory that welcomes and even encourages grafts. This personal experience was the first kernel, the permanent basis for my interest in studying phenomena such as cultural and textual interaction, and above all intertextuality. This word is often taken as my creation and thus a term brevetted mostly by French literary theory. But at the same time I cannot but recognize how much this concept, especially when thinking of the works of Michael Riffaterre, is attuned to the American way of understanding literature by having a direct impact on the everyday reader in a given socio-political context. I feel now that part of my work resonates with the American academic tradition and thus, in retrospect, I can situate your hospitality towards me as being first of all the hospitality towards my ideas and work.

Thanks to Columbia University and mainly to Michael Riffaterre and Roudiez, I can more precisely situate our intellectual exchanges around this very notion of intertextuality, which, since the 70's, have enjoyed a tremendous success. In the meantime, this word has become an international "star," some would say, "une tarte a la creme. …

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