To make the language express what it does not ordinarily express: to make use of it in a new, exceptional, and unaccustomed fashion; to reveal its possibilities for producing physical shock; to divide and distribute it actively in space; to deal with intonations in an absolutely concrete manner, restoring their power to shatter as well as really to manifest something; to turn against language and its basely utilitarian sources, against its trapped beast origins; and finally to consider language as the form of Incantation.
— Antonin Artaud "The Theater and Its Double"
Shattering of discourse reveals that linguistic changes constitute changes in the status of the subject "“ his relation to the body, to others, and to objects; it also reveals that normalized language is just one of the ways of articulating the signifying process that encompasses the body, the material referent, and language itself.
Julia Kristeva Revolution in Poetic Language
To tell it all in a sentence is not what I wish to do I wish to tell it all in a sentence what they may make it do.
Gertrude Stein How to Write
The following pages are an exploration in language and loss, which I believe rely intimately on one another. If words are understood in relation to their negative differential relations, this concept denotes presence based on absence. The presence of this story is also based on absence. It uses language to explore a space of loss, a negative space, and attempts to use positive terms in order to define these fissures. It also explores the futility of language as definitive and determined.
The writing in this project does not move comfortably and linearly down the page. Instead, it ruptures and jumps throughout time and space. It is not organized like a conventional story or a traditionally academic paper, realizing that there is nothing absolutely conventional or traditional about a given text in these mediums anyway. This work struggles to be an unfamiliar combination of both types of text. It links Feminist, Marxist, Psychoanalysis, Post-Structuralist, Queer, and New Historicist theories with a fragmented narrative about the death of a loved one.
What is important about this text is not necessarily its subject. The writing struggles to refrain from self-indulgence and obsession. What this composition is concerned with is its own coming into being as a structure. At one end there is loss and at the other there is the emission of text, the utterances and the desire of the writing to be in the world. The desire I write is the desire to make meaning, to fill in the gaps and spaces, the desire to write the spaces in between the spaces.
This narrative calls attention to itself as narrative and uses theory to illuminate its construction. It relies on contradiction and movement. It relies on the shattering of traditional writing systems to tell a story. It comes into being in order to exist and mean. It means to mean but understands the inevitable fluidity and splintering off of meaning. It desires to open up the conversation and invite a reader in. The story, like moments in time, begins ends and inevitably begins again and again…
This is the beginning of a story. This story here and now is beginning and there is someone to read it. This is it. This is a story. These are words. This story is made of words. This is how a story goes. This is how language goes. This is how it goes:
Once upon a time there was a story. The story was made and this is how it goes:
This is the beginning of a story…
Jacques Derrida posits that in the process of signification, of negotiating meaning, "an interval must separate it from what it is not; but the interval that constitutes it in the present must also…divide the present in itself, thus dividing, along with the present, everything that can be conceived on its basis" (394). Here he explains the term "differance," which refers to a difference in time and a deferral in space in order to produce meaning. Deconstruction is concerned with the gaps and spaces in between the signifieds (concepts) and signifiers (sound images). If these gaps exist within language, then the beginning is not the beginning exactly, but rather a commingling of beginning, ending, and all the operatives in between. The beginning of this story is a negotiation that occurs between many terms simultaneously.
Derrida's emphasis lies in the fact that "textual meaning is not ultimately determinate or decidable, but rather always subject to the 'play' or difference within the signifying chain of language" (eds Childers and Hentzi 83). The beginning of this story plays with the notion of beginnings in order to reinforce the slippage that occurs through the signifying chain. What does it mean to begin? A beginning cannot exist independently of itself as a beginning because it needs other terms and points of reference in the text to define it as such. The beginning of this narrative is not simply the first few words on the page. One cannot definitely pin down the beginning because how can one determine the exact place where the beginning has ceased to be the beginning and has become the middle or the end?
In order to "begin" you have to know "end" and this is not the end (but it is) and you, reader, are thinking of the end when you begin and what of the spaces in (out) between? That is why now this story will begin. This story is becoming. This is the beginning. No, this is the beginning. No, this is the beginning. Now, I cannot begin because there is no beginning. The beginning divides over and over (under and under) until fracture and continuum cause the story. Now the story will begin:
Now, the sun is setting. It is 7:15 p.m. There are seconds here to divide it. Now, it is 7:18, 7:19, 7:20 and now is lost but not now. Now, there are people on bikes riding and trucks selling produce stop and people walk and walk and it is busy on the street outside and somewhere far away my grandmother is dying.
Now, it is a long time ago when the beginning began and the stories started. From mouths to hands to walls to paper they were passed and our stories split. This is the beginning which is no beginning but inevitably we were there and so was she and so was I and so were you. And we are there now and so is she and so am I and so are you because the beginning is here and now the story will begin.
I am attempting to write the beginning of a story but to me this seems almost impossible. The story that I am writing is a fusion of my story and my grandmother's story and therefore, I do not know really when or how it began. My story is like Trinn T. Minh-Ha's story:
My story, no doubt, is me, but it is also, no doubt, older than me. Younger than me, older than the humanized. Unmeasurable, uncontainable, so immense that it exceeds all attempts at humanizing. But humanizing we do, and also overdo, for the vision of a story that has no end-no end, no middle, no beginning; no start, no stop, no progression; neither backward nor forward, only a stream that flows into another stream, an open sea-is the vision of a madwoman.
Minn-ha remarks that the vision of her story is the vision of a madwoman. The madwoman is held in opposition to traditional and rational forms of speech, writing and storytelling. A rational story has a definite beginning, middle and end. The rational/traditional story that we have been brought up with is the male story "“ rising action, climax, denoument. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar in "The Madwoman in the Attic" say that "women must kill the aesthetic ideal through which they themselves have been 'killed' into art" (598). I choose not to write a traditional (patriarchal) story because I wish to remain open to the possibility of openness even at the risk of being deemed irrational and mad.
My story is an open sea. I swim in that sea with mad vision wondering where to place words in order to begin. How do I connote this spreading ocean of loss? I am swimming in a story that flows around and away. I ca not accurately catch it for longer than a moment in order to convey meaning precisely because it is too fluid and slippery, like signifiers at sea.
The notion of indeterminacy lies central to this story. This story relies so heavily on this concept that it often ceases to be accurately defined as "story." The intentions of this narrative are fragmented. Do you know what I mean? Gerald Graff states: "Intentions may be complicated, conflicted, and ambiguous in ways that resist determinate formulation" (169). My grandmother's intention is to die. What does she mean? My intention is to tell a story. What do I mean? If meaning is constantly deferred and differing what does it mean to mean? Can we mean at all?
Graff also states: "indeterminacy could hardly pose itself as a problem unless it could be seen against a background of partial determinacy that makes it stand out" (174). There is partial determinacy in this narrative. There is admission that this is indeed a story. There is a setting "“ a street with merchants and people on bikes. There are characters "“ "I," "grandmother," and "reader." These categories are certain (and certainly stated with irony).
This story is fragmented and is stuck in between the gaps. I will tell you that I am the narrator and that I am. I will tell you that you are a reader and you are too. We are, no matter what the time, 7:18, 7:19, 7:20, in busy neighborhoods or spread out country. Deferred and differing. But we are (or we are not).
My compulsion to tell a story and let "you," whoever "you" are, make meaning is strong (weak). "I" feels as if "I" should define "my" self. "I" has already hinted that "I" am not a male because "I" admittedly risk being read as a madwoman. This narrator is (not) female. And maybe the reader is (not) male. What is happening to "you," when you read this text? Here is a partial answer (all answers are partial):
The first moment of the dialectic of reading is marked by the recognition of the necessary duality of subjects; the second, by the realization that this duality is threatened by the author's absence. In the third moment, the duality of subjects is referred to the duality of contexts. Reading becomes a mediation between author and reader, between the context of writings and the context of reading.
As we speak (write) we are in this process of negotiation that is similar to the negotiation of making meaning. In order to make meaning, we must work together. This text "renounces the power to codify meaning associated with the authority of the author, but also retains the power to refer to and affect reality, with the result that text and reader mutually make and remake each other" (Rajan 32). I do not wish to fall into the trap of intentional fallacy: "literary critics should not search for ultimate meanings in texts by probing what their creators 'intended'" (Hall 18-19). There is no ultimate meaning underlying this text that "I" as "author I" am attempting to convey. I have my own meanings, and you have yours. The meaning and intentions of this text are fluid, like the story's beginning, middle and end.
Stories exist temporally, like meanings, but by time I do not necessarily mean within a chronological timeline. I feel as if I should define "story." Webster's defines "story" as 1. A narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse; tale. 4. The plot or succession of incidents of a novel, poem, drama, etc. 5. A narration of incidents or events. 7. A lie; fabrication. 8. History (1319). Dictionary definitions demonstrate the indeterminacy of language. A story could be a lie, and/or history. A story is true and/or false. A story is not one or the other because it is both.
Hegel states in "Dialectics" that "formal thinking lays down for its principle that contradiction is unthinkable; but as a matter of fact the thinking of contradiction is the essential moment of the concept" (Hegel 245). What I feel is important here is that contradiction creates the essential moment of the concept. When I say that this story is true and this story is false I am saying that this story is in its essential moment when you read it. This story is in the process of becoming, of negotiating, as it moves along and through the page deferred and differing. Choose:
Answer: none of the above. This story is in its essential moment.
My grandmother has always been a good Catholic girl. Church on Sundays, prayers at night. The halls of her home are lined with pictures of Jesus and his thorns. When she began what hospice called "actively dying," she said to a cousin, "pray that God takes me soon." She has been taken home from the hospital to die and we wait for her between morphine sleeps and breathing.
While breathing you are in an ideology which, breathing, you are either aware or unaware. Are you aware of your breathing? Ideology can be defined as "the relation between the realm of culture (including but not limited to 'ideas') and the realm of political economy (including 'production')" (Kavanagh 307). In other words, if you are breathing, you are in a culture somewhere involved somehow politically and productively in that culture breathing whether you realize it or not. Louis Althusser states:
There is no ideology except by the subject and for subjects…it is essential to realize that both he who is writing these lines and the reader who reads them are themselves subjects, and therefore ideological subjects…that the author and the reader of these lines both live 'spontaneously' or 'naturally' in ideology.
It is the naturalness of the ideology that contains us either unaware or aware. We are always involved inevitably with economy, culture and politics, and are a part of some system of production. The characters in this story, too, live (breathe) 'naturally' in ideology. She is Catholic, part of a certain class system (she never worked formally, never paid) and the narrator is also (breathing) in her (his) own ideology. Readers are also involved in their own ideology. We constantly make and remake each other in our ideological negotiations. The grandmother is Catholic and her ideology is highly influenced by this fact. The narrator is not Catholic and avoids discussing this for now and will get to that later (now). The reader is___________ .
Are you aware of your ideological position? It's late "“ do you know where your ideology is? I know (I do not know if) I am (am not) aware of my (your) ideology. We within our separate systems linked through text deferring across space and differing across time. It is 8:23 p.m. in a low-income town in California where merchants wait with vegetables and bikes roll where people walk or dust blows but no, it is not.
I cannot define my ideological position nor can I define yours but that does not mean that I am not aware of some sort of system. I am unaware (aware) of where I stand specifically, socially, historically and economically because I define my position in relation to other people. I have a job. She does not. My grandmother was never paid. I cannot be specific because specific is not possible. I once wrote, "We are poor. We are poor outside of the word poor but it is the only word that will say poor as we know poor because there are as many definitions of poor as there are people and now that you mention it we are rich."
In trying to define my grandmother's economic position in this particular society, I might use the word "poor," but this is not it, not exactly. My grandmother owns a house and has a car. Therefore she is not "poor," but "rich" in some respects. The town she lives in is a dusty side strewn town where the majority of inhabitants might be defined in an economic report as "poor," but I know that this is not the case with my grandmother (but it is). I've included this in my story because I think it is important for readers to understand that they are on unstable ground when they become actively identified with the characters in this story. You might read this text like a woman reading male text and therefore, might experience a form of powerlessness. Judith Fetterley says:
To be excluded from a literature that claims to define one's identity is to experience a particular form of powerlessness "“ not simply the powerlessness which derives from not seeing one's experience articulated, clarified, and legitimized in art, but more significantly the powerless which results in endless division of self against self.
Your subjectivity becomes actively (dying) involved with my subjectivity and my grandmother's subjectivity (actively dying) and we are all wound up and split apart in this shifting story that slips like minutes, seconds and signifiers. In this story, you are poor and poor means. In reading this narrative, you "bring (old) subject-positions to the text at the same time the actual process of reading constructs (new) subject-positions for [you]" (Fuss 588). That is why I willingly leave gaps and spaces for you as a reader to fill in. I do not want to construct too closed of a subject position for you. If I did, you might not be able to identify with the characters that are "poor."
I feel it is important to talk about class and economics although in this particular story it is not the most important thing (it is). The most important thing in this story is life, death, and becoming as a structure, as a story. I agree with Volosinov that "every sign…is a construct between socially organized persons in the process of their interaction" (278). We need each other to speak, write and make signs. We need each other to read each other. However, to rely too heavily on Marxism to tell this story would be futile (this story is futile). I cannot and do not want to believe completely in Marx's statement that "life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life" (253). Although I do believe him, I do not (want to). His statement is too absolute(ly futile).
Focusing on Marx, one might interpret his statement about consciousness as stating that our economic situation is the sole determiner of our individual consciousness. He seems to express a belief that life creates language and reality, but he never specifically mentions language. His statement may be true (false), but this does not allow for any form of consciousness or reality to be conveyed outside of language. Can anything be conveyed outside of language? Obviously not. Herein lies the futility.
She wakes at night and breathes deeper. In the mornings, she is shallow, like the tube leaning in her throat that feels like a new and uncomfortable chair. She is without words but not without language. Her throat swelled, stopped her breathing. The tube and oxygen sustain her. This air, this moving and thinning air, keeps her. The air is thin, like her breathing, but her body is not. Her hands are swollen from too much writing. The hospital took her voice and she only has hands to write leaving.
Jacques Lacan's statement that "it is the world of words that creates the world of things" is reminiscent of Marx's statement about consciousness, but within this story, I am not interested in the world of words ("The Symbolic Order" 184). Of course, this is a contradiction in terms (we are in an essential moment) because this story is made of words and it appears to convey some sort of meaning. This story can only exist in Lacan's Symbolic Order, because there is no language for the Real or the Imaginary order. This story can only exist (symbolically) after the Mirror Stage.
However, this story desires to exist outside the symbolic realm, but if that were to happen, this story would not exist. Therefore, this story does not exist and this story exists (in its essential moment). This story wants to exist as part of the Real or Imaginary, particularly because this story is concerned with death, but this is a delusive desire, like morphine sleep and breathing.
Lacan's Real can be defined as "stand[ing] for what is neither symbolic nor imaginary, and remain[ing] foreclosed from the analytic experience…it is an algebraic x…[it] is that which always returns to the same place…the real is the impossible" (Sheridan 280). A story can not possibly exist in the Real, as the Real is not possible and this story is. Impossible. That is, this story is possible.
Repetition is also useful to this story (is possible) because repetition is wound up tightly with the process of memory. This story began again and again with repetition and repetition exists in its essential moment throughout this story because "to begin by remembering in order to deal with the resistances of repetition is not the same thing as to begin by repetition in order to tackle remembering. It is this that shows us that the time-function is of a logical order, and bound up with a signifying shaping of the real" (Lacan Four Fundamental 40). I did not begin this story by trying to resist memory. I began with repetition in order to tackle remembering. I am not consciously trying to experience Freudian abreaction in order to "master the situation" of my grandmother's dying (Freud 170). I know this is inevitable. I am simply (complexly) trying to remember. There is a lot to remember. There are a lot of (re)memories.
Her eyes open and she stares at my shirt. She has never been so concerned with shirts. Is it because of color and brightness? She has been in white and static for weeks. The shirt is pink. Her eyes were pink and morphine glossed. She asked for no pain medication but at night the nurse sneaks it.
I wonder where she goes in the glossed state. Where is her body outside of room with hospital bed? Is it locked in relentless breathing or does she let it float with eyelids? Where are her words when her mouth can't speak them and her hands too swollen to write?
If I were to write the space that she inhabits without words, what would it look like? What would it sound like? O o O o O o "“ the circles are not shallow or deep enough to round it.
I am not afraid of the chasm that contains no language. I believe it is female space simply because it is unable to be defined. I, "by opening up, [am] opened to being 'possessed,' which is to say, dispossesed of [my]self" (Cixous 583). I am willing to be possessed and to lose my self to understand and not understand this space that is unable to be worded. This space is like the signifying sea, the vision of the madwoman. The space that I attempt to manifest can be inadequately signified with the term 'pleasure.' It is, what Irigaray calls "the elsewhere of female pleasure" because it is a space that is "inarticulate in language" (571). Can we (you they he she I) know this space if it is outside of language? Why is "I" attempting to arrive there when I know that in that space there is no language? Obviously I am aware of the meaninglessness of my attempt, but yet I must move forward (it is 10:15 days later).
It is the force of the story in its essential moment that compels and propels me. It is the end (of the text and my grandmother) that I am furiously writing toward. It is impossible for me to disengage from this process. Irigaray states that "the elsewhere of feminine pleasure can only be found at the price of crossing back through the mirror that subtends all speculation" (571). There is pleasure there but not without a price. The price is losing language.
There she is there and there she is there she is I am there too without language.
I am engaged with my grandmother's story for many reasons. One is because of the inability to tell it and another is because of the inevitability of writing it. I am waiting for our stories to conclude. Time is differing and space is deferred and I can't stop the minutes from moving. As a female writing a female text, I "recount…the metamorphosis of words from one place to another…[I] change versions of these metamorphoses, not in order to further confuse the matter but because [I] record the changes. The result of these changes is an avoidance of fixed meanings" (Minn-ha 43). I open myself to possession. I am willing to be inhabited by and inhabit an elsewhere of pleasure. Is this pleasure?
The promises we make while dying are like moths falling in light bulbs. The promises we make others make when dying are like larvae. 'Promise me, promise me,' she said after the rosary, 'do not have a child before marriage.'
I discovered a few days before the promise that I had a half uncle. Forty-eight years a secret because she was a good Catholic. She was once raped by a man who was going to be her husband. Premarital pregnancy was enough to get her shipped from Minnesota to California to have a baby and give him away. Good Catholic girls line their halls with thorny Jesus, not baby pictures from premarital relations.
"Do not have a child before marriage," she said, "do not have premarital relations."
I've never been a good Catholic. I've never been Catholic at all.
The weight of these statements she made before dying lay heavily upon me. They summarize all that is expected of a good girl, an angel as opposed to a monster. How am I to approach without guilt any other lifestyle than the one she has approved of? The grandmother in this story did not leave the conversation open. She did not leave room for interpretation or for any other subjectivity and ideology to enter into her speech act aside from her own. All of these old ideas about heaven hang over my head and I wonder if she is staring down at me in all of my premarital and not always heterosexual relations. She has taken it upon herself to define gender and to place these traditional definitions upon me. However, gender definitions cannot be so accurately fixed or determinate. Judith Butler writes: "gender is a contemporary way of organizing past and future cultural norms, a way of situating oneself in and through these norms, and active style of living one's body in the world" (614). Gender can be as fluid as a beginning within a story that has no definite point of departure. Depending on where one is situated culturally determines how one portrays one's gender. Butler's hypothesis of gender as performance is important to this story because I perform my gender and am (and am not) aware that I am doing so.
Gender, like meaning, is indeterminate. I performed my gender and sexuality appropriately whenever I would visit my grandmother so as not to upset her. She once asked me of my live-in boyfriend, "you don't love him, do you? Or else you would marry him?" I then went on to explain to her that I wasn't ready for marriage and that I did not know if I was ever going to have children. She did not understand me. She did not leave the conversation open, and that is why I would perform for her. Her pre-death articulation haunts me, especially since I never appropriately follow the rules exactly. This is an essential moment (not essentialist moment) within the story.
I stated before that I did not wish to rely heavily on Marxist analysis, and nor do I wish to rely heavily on Feminist analysis. To rely solely on Feminism and not to include Queer theory would be to reinforce an essentialism, which this story does not want to promote. The grandmother in this story is an essentialist because she seems to know exactly what it is an essentially feminine "female" should do. She admonished me to deny any other sexual encounters (like a good Catholic) that wouldn't "ensure population, reproduce labor capacity, perpetuate the form of social relations" in order "to constitute a sexuality that is economically useful and politically conservative" (Foucault 683). For her, sexuality is something that should exist outside of pleasure.
Note: I wish that within this story I could deconstruct the Bible. god Is Love, Yes he Is.
The mass was a lot of mumble. A lot of amen amen men a men here and there. The voices from front and back not exactly blending. Her casket was pink. I kept thinking 'did my dad pick that color?' It was sickly pink like sickly eyes. Sickly girl pink and this is all I can think. She there. In there lying. Lied for years about son. Her stories. Her story over her who I got my stories from lying. She the storyteller over there now lying. Her and stories overlying one and the other ignore the other both talking to tell the story.
I never used to believe her and her story. She seemed to tell tall tales that were not truth. Like about frogs. Frogs "“ freeze them they won't die, she said. I did not believe her. I have a hard time with belief. I found out later the frog story was true. This, like the definition of story "“ true or false true or false.
Now her story is over and no matter how much she wants me to be a good girl I must tell her story. I tell her story because now the storyteller is gone. The beginning was not a definite now but now this now is for sure because now she is really gone really truly gone in the process of me trying to write this story she is gone but not really gone and here we go here we go here we go again and again and again…
This is the beginning of a story.
It is appropriate for me to end here and now. When I began is not the same as when I began and this story changes from one word to the next (it is 2:21 p.m. weeks later). I have picked up threads, woven and dropped the yarn (another name for story). I have acknowledged systems. I have acknowledged futility. I tell this story because "death and unchanging society represent precisely the inability to hear and understand the signifier …as ciphering, as rhythm, as a presence that precedes the signification of object or emotion" (Kristeva Desire 31). This story is before language in one wide sea before signifiers slipping. This story is out of madwoman's mouth. This story came into being at a specific instance in herstory:
"The writing and reading of texts…[is] being reconstructed as historically determined and determining modes of cultural work; apparently autonomous aesthetic and academic issues are being reunderstood as inextricably though complexly linked to other discourses and practices "“ such linkages constituting the social networks within which individual subjectivities and collective structures are mutually and continuously shaped."
There are many voices speaking. There are subjectivities colliding in time that slips like signifiers. There are histories and herstories:
April 10, 1916 "“ the grandmother is born in Minnesota
A father and son is born in between us in the name of.
October 7, 1976 "“"I" am born in California
1959 "“ Saussure's Course in General Linguistics
1969 forward "“ Feminism and Queer theories
1980- "I" learn how to ride a two-wheeled bike
1994-present- "I" begin to talk about theory
Christmas is always fun for Catholics.
1992-present - sex
1993-present - writing
A long time ago "“ someone pointed at a tree and said it
1977 or 78 "“ "I" passed through the mirror
1999-2009- a neighborhood with merchants and bikes where writing happens
Easter is always fun for Catholics too unless someone is dying
Sunday May 6, 2001 "“ the Real
She has passed backwards and this story is ending (beginning) forwards. Now the story begins. Now it ends. Now we are in the middle. Let your subjectivity slide as if on water.
Nine a.m. when Catholic mass began she ended. Her story is beginning somewhere at the end to start over again in the middle. In the middle of a moment there are no beginning or ends. In the middle of a moment there is only moment. This is the beginning of a story. This is moment, an essential moment. This is her story.
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This essay explores language and loss. It also explores the futility of language.