- Citation and Modernity: Derrida, Joyce and Brecht
This elegant and slim book is a welcome addition to what has been, so far, the most comprehensive approach to the phenomenon of literary quotation, Antoine Compagnon's classic study, La Seconde Main (Seuil, Paris, 1979). Compagnon's comprehensive essay, unhappily not translated into English, deals essentially with Montaigne and stops short at a study of modernity. Sartiliot's approach situates itself squarely in a radical modernity which tries to make sense of writers such as Borges, Nabokov, Benjamin or Calvino, as she moves from Derrida's deconstructive strategies in Glas to offer a general overview of the practices of two major twentieth-century "citators," Brecht and Joyce. She plunges the reader in medias res, or rather into the medium of language, by showing how any definition of quotation will have to start from particular idioms: Zitat, Anführungsstriche, Geflügelte Wörter in German, citation, guillemets, dissémination in French, "citation," "quotation," "quotation marks," "inverted commas" in English, [End Page 456] these phrases must all be reinscribed in a linguistic network which reveals the submerged metaphoricity of the process by which the words of another become mine or yours. If "quotation" remains close to "quoth," the French citation alludes to legal usage while remaining open to sexual innuendoes present in solliciter, and Zitat numbers and measures words. This proves that the words or phrases quoted to define quotation have already started working through language, thus destabilizing any critical discourse. Sartiliof s attentiveness to the opacities of specific idioms makes this introduction a truly invaluable tool. Quotations finally appear as the text's "winks," the "eyes" of generalized intertextuality.
Her second chapter is an astute and faithful commentary of Derrida's Glas. Sartiliot follows the elaborate interaction between the texts of Hegel and Genet, and accounts for the anasemic play with proper names which render Glas so playful and so difficult. Derrida continually translates from language to language, exhibiting the law of literal dissemination at work in any quotation. Sartiliot never hedges the fundamental issue of seemingly gratuitous wordplays (as when Hegel becomes an "aigle", an eagle, or Genet some broom flower): she shows how these translinguistic graftings anticipate Abraham and Torok "cryptonymia" and literally enact deconstruction in an attempt to speak and write several languages at the same time. Quotation, a sort of apotropaic warding off of castration, never far from some unutterable femininity, discloses the author's secret, a signature well hidden in a crypt from which textual ghosts will emerge now and then in order to undo any delusion of mastery over pseudo-transcendental meanings.
As Sartiliot acknowledges in her Conclusion, the two chapters on Joyce and Brecht can appear misplaced, coming after the intricacies of a Derridian reading. She explains that her essay is not just a book about Derrida—not even Derrida reading Joyce and Brecht—but a meditation on the way in which citation, the reinscription of the discourse of the other into a text, functions as creative theft which keeps the memory of other texts. Thus the two chapters function as new departures rather than as exemplifications of a method: the chapter on Finnegans Wake will not bring any new material to specialized Joycean exegetes—it centers, very wisely, on the use of the Quinet motif, already systematically glossed by Clive Hart and numerous followers—but provides a rationale for Joyce's blurring of the boundaries between original and echo, ergon and parergon. The analysis of the "Letter" chapter in the Wake is forceful, and very consistent in its terminology. The Brecht chapter stresses the political implications of uninhibited plagiarism, and offers an interesting bridge between Althusser's symptomatic reading and deconstruction: both attack the domination of paternal patriarchy and point to mobile energies of social and historical subjects caught in their own textualizations. If Derrida's notion of quotational undecidability finally suggests that "language is structured like the Unconscious" (reversing the Lacanian phrase), this Unconscious nevertheless remains a political Unconscious, [End...