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  • Kristeva, Intertextuality, and Re-imagining “The Mad Woman in the Attic”
  • Kristy Butler (bio)

How can one discover truth I thought and that thought led me nowhere. No one would tell me the truth.

—Mr. Rochester in Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea 62

Truths must be told. As an object of discovery, truth is often linked to language. However, as the presumed Mr. Rochester figure in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea states, the truth is elusive and can often lead to dead ends and few guideposts. Similarly, meaning as a related object of discovery also engages with language. As Jacques Lacan outlines in Écrits, the arch of meaning between the signifier and the signified is a fluid and potentially infinite arch of analysis. When meaning cannot be fixed to a single signifier, confusion abounds. However, at what Lacan terms the point de caption, or the “bow tie,” meaning is fixed so that articulation and analysis are made possible in language (681–82). Thus, as a semiotic system, language engages with structures. Importantly, these structures can also become unstable.

One theorist at the epicenter of linguistic and semiotic criticism and its effects upon social theory is Julia Kristeva. Traversing through the levels of language, her theories provide critics and scholars alike with several points de caption by which language can be explored and analyzed. This essay will discuss her analysis of language as a structure of social codes that create false ending points. Specifically, this essay traces the development of her theories of the ideologeme and intertextuality as a way to approach knowledge and perspective from multiple utterances. In so doing, textual readings, particularly of narrative, multiply from different viewpoints. As Kristeva asserts, the intertextual is not simply stories building upon other stories. Intertextuality is a process, a fluid state of oscillating interpretations that seeks to expose the plurality of meaning, both in texts and, indeed, at the most basic level of the signifier. The value of intertextual readings or re-readings of stories lies in their ability to open up a text to new perspectives while at the same time avoiding hierarchical categorizations. [End Page 129] Interrogating the structure of truth as an object of language allows the polyphonic to replace the logocentric. Therefore, the last section of this essay examines how intertextual readings can be used as tools to explore and to define female identity in narrative from the nineteenth into the twentieth century. Specifically, it explores the intertextual relationship between Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea and questions the role that literary criticism has played in amplifying Jane’s voice and silencing Bertha’s. It is only through intertextuality that both voices are harmonized, expanding and deepening the reading of both texts. Moreover, Jacques Derrida’s concept of hauntology will guide this narrative analysis. Hauntological readings demonstrate that the literary ghosts of one text can haunt others. The hauntological traces of such ghosts mirror Kristeva’s notion of looping. As one story finishes (or as Kristeva believes, it is arbitrarily ended), another begins. Where these loops intersect, enriched readings emerge.

Crucial to understanding Kristeva’s approach toward intertextuality theory is her interrogation of linguistics, specifically poetic language as focal object in the pursuit of truth. In Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, Kristeva discusses the ethical implications of language structures as social codes (24). Importantly, Kristeva asserts that with the development of linguistics as a scientific discourse, rigid rationalizations became embedded within “the social contract in its most solid substratum” (24). Consequently, she argues, the truth is disassociated from what she calls the speaking subject in such a way that truth and meaning are pre-determined within the discourse that facilitates its search. Displacing the subject in this way eclipses truth (24). Kristeva’s solution requires changing the focus of linguistic objects of study so that linguists can analyze language systems as “articulation[s] of a heterogeneous process, with the speaking subject leaving its imprint on the dialectic between the articulation and the process” (24). Such a shift defines Kristeva’s use of “poetic language,” what she considers separate from the social contracts of “ordinary language” and “a...


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pp. 129-147
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