241/1030: Theories of the Novel and some reflection

I’ve lost some steam again in posting here everyday, but I’m still somehow working at least 4/7 days for a PhD, so I’m feeling pretty good about that. 

Having an office space to go to has been motivating, since I always go with at least 3 hours to work there and can’t leave unless I’ve gotten done my mini goal for the day, though I don’t think I’ll meet my main goal for this week: I want to actually get to drafting something. Instead, I’m still slogging through all the material I’ve collected, and keep getting distracted by other texts connected to what I’m currently trying to read, and I am lucky when I write something in my notes that finds a cohesion between ideas that can be used for my diss. So far, it’s just a lot of fragements, as the menu on the left of the image may demonstrate. Still, yesterday I figured out a possible organization by starting with the focus on the subject/individual in literature, and then moving to the novel, and then moving to Bakhtin. 

I wish I had more of these breakthroughs. 

Part of the problem is that it takes a huge chunk of uninterrupted time to get to some breakthroughs. For example, yesterday I finally (after paperwork, helping someone, chores, errands, workout) made it to the office by 1500. My soft goal was 3 hours, but I found myself finishing the last of annotations for my 2014/15 notes and didn’t want to leave before I’d done that. Of course, the first 1.5 hours, I was looking for distraction in my emails and WordPress, so had I been more efficient with my time, I may have left at 1800. Still, after spending 2 solid hours actually working with my notes is when I was able to make the connection I did above. This pattern is usual for me, and I know this is my writing habit, but I can’t wait to devote all my time to PhD work rather than half the day (when I’m lucky) as I am now. October 2017 is going to be awesome. 

In other news, as far as theories of the novel are concerned, I was surprised to see that Georg Lukács, whose “The Ideology of Modernism” I reread for today, was also interested in the Novel as a genre and form, and that Bakhtin may have actually been informed by Lucács in his own writings about the novel. Galin Tihanow in The Master and the Slave: Lucács, Bakhtin, and the Ideas of their Time (2000) provides a pretty good overview of how this happened. Noticing this connection made me look at Tihanov and read his introduction, and while there are some useful notes about Bakhtin here, and I may refer back to the book, I don’t actually need it now, and that’s the source of some of my problems in productivity right now.

That being said, Tihanov’s emphasis that Bakhtin had an “‘unreserved trust’ in the unity of tradition” (9) isn’t totally useless. It serves as a good reminder of how to approach Bakhtin despite the tendancy of post-colonial critics or deconstructionist. Bakhtin inherited structuralism and Russian Formalism very well, and while his theories disprove many of these ideas, they are in fact meant to support the building they break down. 

Furthermore, and of even more significance for this blog given the title I gave it, “For both Lucács and Bakhtin, the novel became the pinnacle of their efforts to problematize the connections between culture and society” and in their work, “the genre of the novel is a site of intersecting literacy and philosophical analysis which strives to understand modernity and to respond to it” (7). This is not news to me, since I am very familiar with Bakhtin’s theory of heteroglossia, which I understand as a symptom of modernity, but it’s nice to find other scholars who say it better than I can. 

I guess that’s all for today. No idea how coherent it was this time around, but thanks for reading! 

Work Cited: Tihanov, Galin. The Master and the Slave: Lucács, Bakhtin, and the Ideas of their Time. Oxford: Clarendon P, 2000. Web 


225/1030 : Levinas, the “Other” and conversation

Oh, hi there. I think this is the longest gap in my writing that I’ve had since starting this project back in the fall. Part of this gap was due to an externally enforced one in the form of the semester break, but that’s not really an excuse. Still, I wasn’t idle! I spent three of those weeks preparing a concise presentation of my project, whittling my ideas down from 15 pages of goals and theories (already whittled down from six months of thinking and writing) to 4 pages.

My contribution today is about Levinas’ Totality and Infinity (1961), specifically “The Same and Other” and more specifically “A. Metaphysics and Transcendence.”

Great titles. As if I’m not already swimming in the clouds around my ivory tower. But it’s an interesting chapter and after all, as I bragged Friday in my colloquium, I can connect anything to my project. That is, everything connects, so of course Levinas connects to my project.

Actually though, something Judith Butler recently wrote using Levinas really does connect, and I’ll save that for a future post.

In the meantime, Levinas. Hmmm. Where do I begin?

Maybe I’ll start with the different terms he uses that I had to look up myself. He provides definitions, but I haven’t been convinced:

metaphysics- “to die for the invisible” (35). Obviously this definition is related to the idea of metaphysics meaning “beyond the physical.” Everything physical can be seen, so something metaphysical will be invisible. The fact that we need to die for that which is invisible connects to the idea that we cannot be in relation to metaphysics, so I guess this definition does make sense, even if it needs to be broken down, first.

ontology- according to the google dictionary, ontology is both “the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being” and “a set of concepts and categories in a subject area or domain that shows their properties and the relations between them.” The first definition is simpler. It has to do with “being” and the sense of existence beyond the physical bodies that hold the thoughts, emotions, senses difficult to explain in physical terms (even if neurologists and cognitive scientists are working pretty hard to figure this stuff out). While I’m sure the first definition is the one Levinas focuses on, he does seem to include the second one in his considerations, especially in considering the “breach of totality” (35). For example, the ontology of identity as Levinas describes it (and I ascribe to as well) is that “the I is not a being that always remains the same, but it is a being whose existing consists in identifying itself, in recovering its identity throughout all that happens to it” (36).  “I” establishes a point of relation to the rest of existence, even to the other. Yet, while Levinas seems to discuss the other in relation to “I,” he does not consider the other beyond the human, or the physical, and this is what confused me throughout the reading. Ontology here has to do with the being of living, breathing humans and little else, as far as I can tell.

desire- the sensation of lacking something and that something being out of reach. We are only satisfying that desire when we reach the thing which satisfies what is lacked. I understand the striving for satisfaction as a kind of trieb or telos. 

metaphysical desire- “desire beyond everything that can simply complete it” and “toward the absolutely other” (34). It is a “desire without satisfaction which, precisely, understands [extend] the remoteness, the alterity, and the exteriority of the other” (34). The way I understood this was as a desire for something like God, which, along with Levinas’ evocation of transcendence brought the Romantics to mind. However, according to the discussion in my colloquium, God is not really part of this question and instead we are striving towards a sort of abstract structure with this metaphysical desire. On the other hand, if that structure is some kind of love, as was also proposed in the colloquium, then Levinas really is just an evolution of the Romantics. Or am I blinded by Levinas’ use of the word “transcendence?” Apparently, he did redefine it.

transcendence- “back” in my MA years, I learned what transcendence could mean for the Romantics through Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde, where love could take the physical and spiritual beings and help them reach a level of being wo/man could not experience before. This level of being would be in tune with nature and through that, the ultimate being. Based on that understanding, Levinas does not seem so different. For the Romantics, language and working through its structuralism was one way of reaching transcendence as well… still not so different from Levinas. However, I guess what makes him special is that he claims that this transcendence does not lead to a unity or universality, which the Romantics did believe in. Instead, “the metaphysician and the other cannot be totalized” (35). That is, the same cannot “establish its identity by simple opposition to the other” (38).  

Transcendence designates a relation with a reality infinitely distant from my own reality, yet without this distance, destroying this relation and without this relation destroying this distance, as would happen with relations within the same; this relation does not become an implantation in the other and a confusion with him, does not affect the very identity of the same, its ipseity, does not silence the apology, does not become apostay and ecstasy. (41-2).

Granted, I had to look up ipseity (selfhood; individual identity, individuality.) and apostay (the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief or principle) myself. What I get from this definition is that transcendence allows for a totality of being that acknowledges the alterity of  the other without denying itself.

Um, so I guess this is where my interpretation of how this is an argument either for or against (couldn’t decide) cultural relativism comes in.

the other- in being distracted for so long by the definition of other as including non-humans, it took a while for me to return to the other as it also is used in the postcolonial sense, the other human who we cannot accept as ourselves.

The metaphysical other is “other with an alterity that is not formal, is not the simple reverse of identity, and is not formed out of resistance to the same, but is prior to every initiative, to all imperialism of the same” (38-9).

So far, I could deal with Levinas’ ideas and they mostly make sense, especially in working through them term by term like this. Still, I got/get confused when he brings in ethics.

ethics- according to my friends on Wikipedia, ethics (especially from a philosophical sense) “involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct.” It does have something to do with morality, and I get that, but it also has to do with systematic concepts, and culture/society is what systematizes these. Yet, throughout my reading of Levinas, I thought culture/society was supposed to stay out of it (I haven’t been able to work through that reading yet. Maybe I am wrong)? I think what mostly confuses me is that ethics is set by Levinas in opposition to freedom, and that this freedom “comes from an obedience to Being” (45). But then, when I remember that ethics has to also do with that which separates man from animal, in the classical sense, then the idea of ethics being that which can take us beyond the physical is that which Levinas would support.

freedom- “Freedom does not resemble the capricious spontaneity of free will; its ultimate meaning lies in this permanence in the same, which is reason” (43).  It is “to maintain oneself against the other, despite every relation with the other to ensure the autarchy of an I” (46).  This brings me back to transcendence, and therefore transcendence is this kind of freedom.

All  of this writing so far, was just to help me work through Levinas. Now that I have, there are some potential ways to bring Levinas into my discussion. First of all, there is some mention of media/medium, but it’s a bit removed from the contemporary discussion. However, he also raises the the significance of conversation as precisely gaining the kind of freedom he advocates, and this is how I do think I can incorporate Levinas into my project.

Conversation, from the very fact that it maintains the distance between me and the Other, the radical separation asserted in transcendence which prevents the reconstitution of totality, cannot renounce the egoism of its existence; but the very fact of being in conversation consists in recognizing in the Other a right over this egoism. (40)

The autonomy of two utterances in the same conversation, the same one thing, reminds me of Dostoevsky and therefore of Bahktin and dialogism. If you’ve been following my project and arguments, you’ll know Bakhtin’s theories of dialogism, polyphony, and heteroglossia play a large role in them. So, I could extend Levinas to help explain what is meant by his heteroglossia and the way in which an individual, subjective utterance can emerge. I could also use Levinas to support the idea of the how “thought consists in speaking” (40).

So, um, again, yeah. These are my takeaways from Levinas’ chapter on the Metaphysical and Transcendence.

I’ll return soon with a look at what Butler makes of this. Thankfully, she helps bring him more productively into the 21st Century.

Work Cited:

“ethics.” Wikipedia. Web. 28 April 2017.

Levinas, Emmanuel trans. Alphonso Lingis. Totality and Infinity. Pittsburgh: Duquesne                UP, 1969. Print.

“ontonolgy,” “ipseity,” and “apostay.” Google Search. Google. Web. 1 May 2017.

191/1030: Subjectless Productivity

Yesterday (or rather the day before the day before yesterday), I left off mentioning the “intertextuality debate,” and summarized it as a debate between text as medium and media as universal communication force. Irina Rajewsky points out that there is a third position one can take that mediates between these two, but that it inevitably continues to frame the subject as the defining force. It is a reception oriented force that “saves Kristeva’s concept” (50) (i.e. continues to allow for a broader, universal conception of media), but again means that there are as many different ways to interpret intermediality as there are people. So, based on this general frame, we return again and again to the fact that it is an umbrella term and very difficult to talk about intermediality without being specific… and when we get close to specificity, we are too subjective. This point Rajewsky drives home over and over, but then she brings up a classification system that I’ve mentioned in earlier posts. She finds example of the different categories of intermediality as models of how this syste, can be used. 

Still, she does bring up Wolf and Mecke and Rollof who also find ways to categorize the broad concept and allow us to be be productively subjectless.

For example, Mecke and Roloff point out in their foreword that there are three ways to focus on intermediality: the aesthetics, the technical historical, and from a position of discourses analysis. All three are methods that have a distinct literary canon and mode of examination. Of course, I focus on the last one, and bring up discourse theoretics and concepts that can be traced back to rhetoric and discourse theory across several fields. This is what allows me t make the connection to Bakhtin, and while I recently gave credit to Mecke and Roloff for identifying Bakhtin as a basis for looking at intermediality, it seems the credit goes to Rolf Kloepfer and his essay “Intertextualität und Intermedialität oder die Rückkehr zum dialogischem Prinzip. Bachtins Theoreme als Grundlage für Literatur- und Filmtheorie.” 

Also of note is how Jürgen Müller in “Je suits une légende”- argues that the author is an intermediality figure “par excellence” who is manifested in the discourse between texts and not necessarily in the text itself. This becomes interesting in light of Bakhtin’s concept of authoritative discourse. 

Mecke and Roloff also divide their discussion into filmed literature, literary films, and filmy literatures (all three are translated from the German concepts, more clear in the last one). From these distinctions it should become clear that I focus on filmy literatures. 

By the end of this though, I’m not sure if I’m not just bringing in my own subjectivity again, and if there can be such a thing as subjectless-productivity.  

Works Cited: Kloepfer, Rolf. Intertextualität und Intermedialität oder die Rückkehr zum dialogischem Prinzip. Bachtins Theoreme als Grundlage für Literatur- d Filmtheorie.” In Kino-/(Ro)Mania. Jochen Mecke and Volker Roloff, eds. 1st ed. Tübingen: Stauffenburg Verlag, 1999. 23-46. Print.

Rajewsky, Irina O. Intermedialität. Tübingen: UTB, Stuttgart, 2002. Print.

189/1030: returning to Rajewsky, the intermediality debate

I blame my failure to post anything at all in the month of February on the shortness of the month. I could have sworn I at least started a few drafts that month, but I guess it was imagined. I did do a decent amount of annotating though, and sorta kinda finally finished two books I’ve been holding on to since November.

So, almost 200 days in and all I have to show for it are about 70 pages of superficial, disjointed musings. From my MA thesis, I know producing material is easy for me. It’s the quality and the organization that really take the work I haven’t been putting into my dissertation. However, in light of a new uplift in spirits and a new goal for myself: draft for intro by start of April, as well as Spring Break that relieves me of other responsibilities, I’m setting out for five posts this week.

I had a few epiphanies in February, not all of them good. One of them involved taking a connection/conclusion I’d made all for myself and realizing that someone else had already done so: Jochen Mecke and Volker Roloff in Filmische Literatur und literarisierter Film” to be exact. This realization involves making the link from intertextuality to intermediality, but using Kristeva’s theses on intertextuality, which drew from Bakhtin’s dialogism, as a launching point. Therefore, I proved to myself that my research is apt and ideas credible, but I need to dig deeper to find the unexplored territory. But first, a few notes on what Rajewsky proposes as the intertextuality debate (48-58).

This debate centers on the extent to which we expand the term. One, favored by the postructuralists and deconstructionists, restricts the ideas to those dealing with the text and and how textual functions affect the text as a whole. The other, favored by cultural semiotics like myself, if I may dare say so, metaphorically extends the concept to many other aspects of thinking and life. This other stance opens up nicely for intermediality, but then the issue appears that seems to challenge many who deal with intermediality: where can we stop talking about media, if everything is media? And if everything is media and can be talked about in the same way, what’s the point in talking about it?

However, while I acknowledge that argument, I do still believe there is sense in talking about the way these overlaps occur. Especially in light of overlapping ideas of culture and nations, it makes sense to help explain where the boundaries still occur, because this may open up more room for people who think categorically (which is all of us) to become more tolerant.

That’s it for now. more to follow tomorrow (for realsies, this time).

Work Cited: Rajewsky, Irina O. Intermedialität. Tübingen: UTB, Stuttgart, 2002. Print.

Disclaimer: this series is a collection of brainstorms and free-writes that are a part of my planning for actual text in my dissertation. Therefore, I am giving myself the liberty to make mistakes, make assumptions (call me out on offensive ones, though!), not tie up loose ends, and generally not make any sense. 

Copyright 2017 Dorothea Trotter: because these writings are planning for actual text in my dissertation, some of this will appear in my dissertation. I hold the right to the words in this post and require that interested parties ask for permission before copying the words or ideas too closely. Obviously, the date of posting is the date of copyright and I reserve the right to challenge suspected plagiarism in my future dissertation submission using these blogs as proof of originality.


151/1030: de Man and references

I’m going to try and keep it short an sweet today, since I’m mostly capitalizing on a good phase in my writing and want to get this out before I submerge into non-productivity again. I still haven’t finished my lit. review, though I did some hesitant writing for my introduction. Maybe I need to change my goal to producing writing for the intro every day, rather than finish the books that seem to be very slow to get through. I need to assume I’ll get things read as I continue writing.

In my colloquium, a fellow student picked out Paul de Man’s Allegories of Reading and we focused on de Man’s examination of Jean-Jacque Rousseua’s Confessions.   Even if it was interesting to see how de Man broke down writing a confession as a speech-act and I learned more about what Schlegel meant by irony (“the parabasis of allegory (or figure)” (“Excuses (Confessions)” 301), I was hugely frustrated by his style and I didn’t really find it useful. However, at the same time I opened a window on my I-pad safari on de Man’s “Semiology and Rhetoric” that I started reading, never got back to in more than a month, and it’s about time I moved on.

Rereading this article, his use of reference popped out to me.

We may no longer be hearing too much about relevance, but we keep hearing a great deal about reference, about the non-verbal ‘outside’ to which language refers, by which it is conditioned and upon which it acts. (27)

According to the google dictionary, relevance is the quality or state of being closely connected or appropriate. Reference is the the action of mentioning or alluding to something. Both have to do with a connection, but relevance assumes this connection is close whereas reference means we make this connection and ask the reader to evaluate its closeness. It is what enables the writer to prompt a reader to explore the possible connections between literature, self, man, and society that the reader may otherwise not have noticed.

This idea of reference is not new. Considering the most basic conceptions of literature as metaphor for life and all it does (or does not (?)) encompass, I do not need to explain how reference works in text. However, given that my thesis relies on an assumption that we don’t spend enough time thinking about intermedial references, it helps to look at de Man’s text from this perspective.

What does one gain from it? Still figuring it out. Stay tuned (hopefully).

Source cited: Man, Paul de. “Semiology and Rhetoric.” Diacritics 3.3 (1973): 27–33. Web.

Disclaimer: this series is a collection of brainstorms and free-writes that are a part of my planning for actual text in my dissertation. Therefore, I am giving myself the liberty to make mistakes, make assumptions (call me out on offensive ones, though!), not tie up loose ends, and generally not make any sense. 

Copyright 2017 Dorothea Trotter: because these writings are planning for actual text in my dissertation, some of this will appear in my dissertation. I hold the right to the words in this post and require that interested parties ask for permission before copying the words or ideas too closely. Obviously, the date of posting is the date of copyright and I reserve the right to challenge suspected plagiarism in my future dissertation submission using these blogs as proof of originality.

60/1030: Bakhtin’s Chronotope

So, I did manage to come back just in time for the first half-century post, and then only saved the draft and now am already into the second month of supposed writing. I’ve been off the radar for a few weeks because I was busy submitting a scholarship application that will hopefully allow me to work on nothing but my dissertation. It’s starting to get more and more apparent that I’m missing out on important opportunities to learn about my subject or engage with my peers. I could really use this scholarship!

But excuses aside, a little while ago I presented about M.M. Bakhtin’s concept of the chronotope and a week later, I presented by complete project. Even though I had just put together my entire proposal for the third time, I found the prospect of presenting my project daunting and I was worried about the criticism from the professor–the same professor for whom I did the mini presentation about Bakhtin. Granted, the stakes of said mini-presentation were a lot lower and I did not prepare for that as well as I could have. Still, I do know my stuff and need to make sure not to wing it and say something like that Bakhtin was part of the group known as the Russian Formalists.

Let’t start at the beginning: “Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin was a Russian philosopher, literary critic, semiotician and scholar who worked on literary theory, ethics, and the philosophy of language” (Wikipedia, what else?). Primarily, however, Bakhtin saw himself as a philosopher. While he did not formally belong to the group of Russian literary theorists and linguists known as the Russian Formalists (who came earlier than his Bakhtinian Circle), his theories are based on some of the same principles, such as the disctinction between syuzhet and fabula. The Russian Formalists made this distinction because it allowed them to set up a categorization for what is “art” and what is not “art.” Fabula is chronology as we usually understand it- it is the sequence of events in a story. Syuzhet is oposed to this idea by being unbound by chronology. It is events that can be out of chronological order and mark the plot of the text.

Keeping this distinction of time in mind, one can begin to access Bakhtin’s concept of the chronotope.

The term “chronotope” is not new. In fact, the ancient Greeks conjectured about concepts of space and temporal versus physical space and how one moves through these dimensions. Time as a fourth dimension was invented a long time ago. It’s the matter of how we talk about time that has changed- or how it is represented in language.

Now, there’s a lot more to write about the chronotope. Bakhtin wrote more than 150 pages about it. However, the main takeaway for me and thinking and writing about my topic is that the ratio of space to time representation and how this balances with character representation can be used to almost “objectively” declare a certain genre of writing.

The chronotope in literature has an intrinsic generic significance. It can even be said that it is precisely the chronotope that defines genre and generic distinctions, for in literature the primary category in the chronotope is time. The chronotope as a formally constitutive category determines to a significant degree the image of man in literature as well. The image of man is always intrinsically chronotopic. (The Dialogic Imagination 84)

However, I think what interests me more is the way that the chronotope is described.

 In the literary artistic chronotope, spatial and temporal indicators are fused into one carefully thought-out, concrete whole. Time, as it were, thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history. This intersection of axes and fusion of indicators characterizes the artistic chronotope. (The Dialogic Imagination 84)

Bakhtin studies different literary texts and describes how the time, as it is described, almost seems to earn a physical presence. It gains a bodied form through words and that prospect fascinates me, since I am interested in the language of the body and of pain anyway, especially in relation to Olga Grjasnova’s novels. The fact that this kind of language is possible when referring to an abstract raises the hope that a similar kind of language can exist with culture and emotional connections to ideas of nation and culture.

I have to flesh out those ideas more soon, but over all a good takeaway from Bakhtin is that he is very away of the significance of poetic language and does some great work examining it.

Disclaimer: this series is a collection of brainstorms and free-writes that are a part of my planning for actual text in my dissertation. Therefore, I am giving myself the liberty to make mistakes, make assumptions (call me out on offensive ones, though!), not tie up loose ends, and generally not make any sense. 

Copyright 2016 Dorothea Trotter: because these writings are planning for actual text in my dissertation, some of this will appear in my dissertation. I hold the right to the words in this post and require that interested parties ask for permission before copying the words or ideas too closely. Obviously, the date of posting is the date of copyright and I reserve the right to challenge suspected plagiarism in my future dissertation submission using these blogs as proof of originality.

Looking forward, I hope to resume posting regularly to this blog site, even it is is just to feel productive on my work and produce some related writing everyday. Plus,I think the categorization and labeling of my individual streams of research will make this a good cataloging tool for my ideas. I am still thinking about making it private, though.