Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

"Pursuit of Unsayables": Repetition in Kristeva's Black Sun and Strand's "Two De Chiricos"

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

"Pursuit of Unsayables": Repetition in Kristeva's Black Sun and Strand's "Two De Chiricos"

Article excerpt

Both Julia Kristeva and Mark Strand gesture toward verbal repetition's ambivalent relationship to loss and ineffability. This essay suggests, however, that Kristeva's Black Sun tries to subsume repetition's ambivalence within a therapeutic teleology, whereas Strand's villanelles refuse to limit its affective complexity.

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Perhaps we could say that these rhetorical forms [ones that use
repetition] are forms by which we retain the representation of loss.
--Mark Strand, Interview with David Jackson
[Fixation on the lost Thing] loads [signs] with affects, and this
results in making them ambiguous, repetitive, or simply alliterative.
--Julia Kristeva, Black Sun

My first task in this essay is to justify the juxtaposition of the preceding epigraphs, both of which suggest some sort of relationship between an irrecoverable loss and the poet's compulsion to repeat sounds, stress patterns, words. Their juxtaposition may seem intended to reveal a perfect homology between the two statements, the first step in an attempt to put Strand's poetry on the couch and produce a psychological biography, one that proclaims, perhaps, that the refrains of his villanelles entitled "Two de Chiricos" manifest the poet's own unresolved fixation on the lost "Thing." In this essay I do none of these things. My purpose is not to suggest that Strand's poetry, in "striv[ing] for" what Strand calls an "experience that is pre-verbal, or beyond words" (Brooks 28), is striving for the Thing; my purpose is not to claim that the "place" that, for Strand, "is unreachable, or mysterious" (Shawn 151) even in his own poetry is the place of the lost Thing. I do not even suggest that Strand, when he insists that "we never know what the source of a poem is ultimately" (Jackson 15), unintentionally "proves" Julia Kristeva's contention that poetic language's "hold" on the Thing does not provide "an elaboration in the sense of 'becoming aware'" (Black 24) of the identity of the lost object. Rather, I investigate works of one poet and of one theorist who have each demonstrated a continuing fascination (as practice and as subject) with repetition and with poetry's unnameable source, and, in more general terms, with the aspects of selfhood or of our thought processes that remain inaccessible to consciousness; and I do so not simply to ask what light Kristeva's theories might shed on poetic practice but also to locate the point at which poetic practice begins to question or unsettle theory. Following the cue provided by Strand's own comments on his creative process and his relationship to his own work--"I'm not absolutely sure what it is that I'm saying" (Shawn 155)--I ask questions about the "interpretability" of Strand's repetitions; I ask, in other words, whether it is possible to assign any fixed and unambiguous significance to Strand's repetitions. My purpose, then, is to raise some questions about the possible limits of the literary application of psychoanalytic or psychotherapeutic theories to literary works, and, more particularly in this case, to the "rhetorical strategy of repetition that is inherent in poetry" (Jackson 15). These limitations, I suggest, emerge not so much because the psychotherapeutic approach to literature tells us too little, but, rather, because it attempts to tell us too much. Such a study cannot escape a certain methodological paradox, since it must initially work within the theoretical space that it has set out to question. But the limits of that space can be discovered only by first traversing it.

I hope also to open a more sustained discussion of an important and pervasive aspect of Strand's poetry. Strand's use of refrain, anaphora, epistrophe, parallelism, and other repetitive tropes or schemas--such devices appear in early poems like "The Babies" (Reasons) the litanies of "Darker" (Reasons), the longer "Elegy for My Father" (Story), and the lists of the recent Chicken, Shadow, Moon, and More--has not gone unnoticed, but critics so far have offered little more than sporadic or isolated comments on the phenomenon (see, e. …

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