Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Signatures; Spelling the Father's and Erasing T E Mother's in C.J.L. Almqvist's 'Ramido Marinesco' and H.C. Andersen's 'O.T.' (Hans Christian Andersen, Carl Jonas Love Almqvist)

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Signatures; Spelling the Father's and Erasing T E Mother's in C.J.L. Almqvist's 'Ramido Marinesco' and H.C. Andersen's 'O.T.' (Hans Christian Andersen, Carl Jonas Love Almqvist)

Article excerpt

I observe that visible figures represent tangible

figures, much after the same manner that written

words do sound.(1) George Berkeley (78).

In Phaedrus, Plato records Socrates's claims that "the productions of painting look like living beings, but if you ask them a question they maintain a solemn silence. The same holds true of the written word" 97).(2) The silence of writing is criticized by Socrates for substituting the authenticity and authority of the speaking voice with lifeless, speechless signs and inscriptions. The basis for this critique, however, is questioned by Jacques Derrida through his exposure of contradictions in the argument (after all, the speech by Socrates is rendered to us by Plato in writing) and in his interrogation of the sharply opposed meanings within individual words in the Platonic lexicon. While "the silence of the pictorial or sculptural space" is normal, according to Derrida, "this is no longer the case in the scriptural order, since writing gives itself as the image of speech" ("Plato's Pharmacy" 137).

The written image, the "visual grain" of the voice, is an emphatic example of the problematic collusion between writing and painting and provides us with an opportunity to examine the complexity of the "solemn silence" of painting and writing. Socrates's claim is, of course, tied to the notion of painting and writing as representational. That is, he sees writing and painting as mimetic devises re-presenting living models. But what happens when painting is subsumed under and represented through writing? While accentuating the meaning of the text, visual imagery (such as a written painted portrait) might also, simultaneously and inevitably, spread a "noise" that erodes this meaning and thus disturbs the "solemn silence." Hence, a written painting can emerge as an overpowering opacity full of enigmatic implications, difficult to decipher, often--or perhaps always--escaping interpretation.

Although representation is most frequently seen as situated within the visual field, I will attempt to show how visual images in writing can elude (or at least complicate) representation and hence become textual blind spots. The intricate reciprocity between written and pictorial representative, if viewed through the prism of Derrida's thoughts on "pictorialization of writing and the grammatization of the image" (Brunette 100), raises a series of questions that enable us to examine a given text outside a binary logic. Constructing a series of key words that in various ways point out contradictions, not only within the "whole" text, but within "single" words as well, Derrida examines what he calls "undecidables" or the "between" inherent in terms such as pharmakon and hymen.(3) The Derridian lexicon, however, is highly gendered, as pointed out by feminist critics. His practices and use of a sexually coded vocabulary (for example hymen, invagination) as part of his critical lexicon does not, however, necessarily become a "stumbling block" or "a site of colonization over the female body" (Benstock xvii-xvii). Nor does it inevitably place "woman and her parts into discursive circulation merely to titillate the male reader."(4) In this essay I will show how Derrida's terminology invites a reading of the textual body and image that reveals the complexity of gender inscriptions. The gendered implications in the analytical terminology creates a response from the texts themselves and thus might be said to concoct a dialogue "between" theory and praxis.

The construct of the "undecidables" or "between" is implicitly addressed by one of Sweden's foremost nineteenth century authors, Carl Jonas Love Almqvist (1793-1866) in his use of the word mellanting. Mellanting depicts not only the poly-voice of his writing but also individual characters in his fiction--specifically in relation to the characters' gender identities. Almqvist is well known for his use of multiple discourses, renditions of the romantic Gesamtkunstwerk, that are full of masquerades, double identities, incestuous relationships, and androgynous characters. …

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