Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Between Experience and Representation: Intimacy and Identity in Texts by Vita Andersen and Marion Hagen

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Between Experience and Representation: Intimacy and Identity in Texts by Vita Andersen and Marion Hagen

Article excerpt

TODAY IT IS a well-worn conception that postmodern identifies are constructed under the pressure of a powerful media culture and that young people shape their identities and develop their intimate lives in negotiations with textual and visual representations. Since at least the 1960s, this phenomenon has also been an important topic in Scandinavian literature, and the two texts that are considered here are prominent examples of this trend. Vita Andersen's short story collection Hold koft og vor smuk (1978) [Shut Up and Be Lovely] and Marion Hagen's novel Akt (1999) [Nude] situate their respective characters in a media and consumer society in which the relationship between their personal experiences and mediated representations is the main concern. The more than twenty years separating the publication of the two books provides a ground for an interesting comparison of their way of approaching the subject matter. One of my intents here is to describe their respective profiles and point out some significant aesthetic divergences.

The second goal is to explore a theoretical perspective that emerges from phenomenology and has been developed in order to describe categories that are related in a way that is at once parallel as well as divergent. A central concept in this train of thought is the chiasm, as presented by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Shoshana Felman, and Judith Buffer. The word chiasm derives from the Greek X [chi].

In classical rhetoric, chiasm is a verbal structure that presents a syntactic sequence that is then repeated in inverse order. For example, in Ibsen's Et dukkehjem [A Doll House] as Nora leaves and returns her wedding ring to her husband the following chiastic exchange takes place: "Helmer: Ogsa dette? Nora: Dette ogsa" (8:363) [Helmer: Also this? Nora: This also]. By contrast, in the works of Merleau-Ponty, Felman, and Buffer, chiasm is used as a model for thought, rather than as a classical literary trope. It is a foundational concept for both describing and understanding relationships involving perception, corporeality, speech, and reality in general. As an extension of this approach, I will test chiastic thinking in analyzing the complex connections between experience and representation in literature.


In what way can the chiastic figure help us to understand complex relations in and between human beings as well as between subjects and their mediated projections? Maurice Merleae-Ponty takes up this classical rhetorical figure and gives it a new phenomenological function related to the body and its perceptions. Perhaps inspired by Patti Valery, (1) he expands on the idea in ["The Intertwining--The Chiasm"], a chapter in Le visible et l'invisible (1964) [The Visible and the Invisible]. His main point is that perception is reciprocal; our senses are functions of bodily organs but at the same time cannot operate without an external world, an object of sensation. In terms of this phenomenological understanding, the body is a privileged entity since it is both the source and the object of sensations. It can touch itself and see itself, but only in restricted ways: the eye, for example, cannot see its own retina.

Merleau-Ponty interprets this intertwining between the body and the elements of the phenomenal world in terms of the chiasm. In this text, he does not elaborate on the term as such, but only mentions it in the tide. He lets the reader understand through his almost endless reflections on the relationship between sensing and the sensed, which he calls "tin mystere" (172) ["a mystery" (393)], that it should be understood as chiastic. To a large extent Merleau-Ponty deals with this mystery by means of an experimental and creative use of words and images, as if he could never find precisely the right way to express the matter at hand, and we may indeed read his text as a kind of artistic verbal experiment. Because of his poetic style, it is reasonable to understand the chiasm in his discourse primarily as a structural concept encompassing the individual words, figures, and the text as well as its topic. …

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