- Citation and Modernity: Derrida, Joyce, and Brecht
Claudette Sartiliot argues that “the traditional definition of citation” is “inadequate and outmoded” (p. 15). It no longer applies to modernist and postmodernist writers, for whom “quotation represents a definite break with the tradition as well as a means of questioning the nature of the literary text” (p. 3). The traditional definition, derived from classical rhetoric, limits quotation to the purpose of illustration and ornament. In contrast, modernist and postmodernist citational practices, having abandoned the typographical separation of the quotation from the “main” text, question “the concept of text as an autonomous entity” and replace the idea of a book “by the more unbounded word discourse” (p. 20).
To illustrate her point, Sartiliot appeals first to Derrida’s Glas, which “relies on citation to such an extent that it can serve as a paradigm for a theory of quotation” (p. 35). By juxtaposing two columns of text and by extensive quotation, Derrida (a) links quotation with violence and with sexual penetration, (b) stages “a game of appearance and disappearance” through which he evades the reader’s attempts to “pin him down” (p. 42), (c) reveals that words contain within themselves other words, (d) blurs boundaries between languages and disciplines, and (e) “demonstrates how meaning is generated through an aleatory scattering of semes” (p. 57).
Sartiliot also attends to Joyce and Brecht, who achieve similar ends through their citational practices: “both have elevated ‘plagiarism’ to the level of originality” and both “have shown that writing is always and inevitably quoting” (p. 75). Because everything in Finnegans Wake is a quotation—even the characters—Joyce undercuts meaning: a text without boundaries cannot be ingested. Finnegans Wake is like quantum physics: “neither intimated that God was dead, but both confronted the world with a model of representation that intimated that ‘God played dice’” (p. 84).
Brecht’s characters, like those of Finnegans Wake, are quotations rather than originals: “empty signifiers” whose very names are not their own, they challenge “the bourgeois myth of the identity and continuity of the subject” (p. 130). [End Page 367] As Copernicus removes humanity from the center of the universe and Marx removes humanity from the center of history, so Brecht removes humanity from the center of theatrical representation, revealing that “the subject as a fully present identity and entity” is delusory, and humanity is “a linguistic (and thus political) construct” (p. 124). In sum, by their citational practices Derrida, Joyce, and Brecht question “the notions of origin, closure, and authorship associated with the conception of the book” (p. 124).
Citation and Modernity contains moments of insight. For instance, Sartiliot says of Finnegans Wake that “while Joyce was doing away with quotation marks in his own texts, he was forcing his critics to surround most of their critical terms with quotation marks, as a sore sign [sic] of their inability to find the right word to describe what he was doing” (p. 75). In other respects, however, her book is not satisfying. The most obvious problem is that her own citational practices contradict her thesis. After writers like Derrida, Joyce, and Brecht, she says, we can no longer return to traditional quotation based on classical rhetoric, yet her own quotation is strictly traditional: it illustrates and ornaments, and maintains a clear distinction between her own words and those belonging to someone else.
There are other failures to live up to the book’s own standards. Sartiliot claims that the chief purpose of quotation is to attack the authority of the quoted father, to “subvert the notions of filiation and tradition” (p. 149) and “eclipse the precursor” (p. 8), yet her own book steadfastly upholds filiation and tradition. From the cover, which makes much of her having been a student of Derrida, to the pervasive jargon (totalization, hymen, logocentrism, dissemination, etc.), the book defers all too consistently to the authority of its father, and consequently fails to challenge its readers.