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POETIC LANGUAGE AND THE DISSOLUTION OF THE SUBJECT IN LA GITANILLA AND EL LICENCIADO VIDRIERA Maria Antonia Garces Cornell University Textbook definitions are comfortingly simple: prose is one thing, poetry another. Nevertheless, the work of the Russian Formalists, followed by the dazzling expositions of the structuralist linguist Roman Jakobson, have made us rethink the concept of "poetic language ," one that surpasses the notions of "poetry" or verse.1 Coming close to what the Formalists called trans-rational language, poetic language stands in opposition to spoken language, whose basic purpose is communication (Roudiez, Introduction 2). Jakobson has demonstrated in another context, regarding the relationship between poetry and poetic langl,l.age,that "any attempt to reduce the sphere of the poetic function to poetry or to confine poetry to the poetic function , would be a delusive oversimplification." Formulated another way, if the poetic function oversteps the limits of poetry, it is because it constitutes the "dominant, determining function" of verbal art (Jakobson, "Linguistics" 69). Julia Kristeva's concept of "poetic language," however, transcends the realms of "literature" and linguistic codes as viewed by the Russian Formalists and Jakobson, among others. 2 By taking into account the role of the subject-a heterogenous, oscillating "sujeten proces"(subject in process/on trial)-in the creation of literary and artistic works, Kristeva explores the manner in which the text parallels the logic of the unconscious. 3 In such inquiry, Kristeva follows Lacan, for whom the "Freudian thing" is not the ego or the "self" but the subject of the unconscious-the subject over which the unconscious holds sway. Her focus is the decentering of the ego and the subversion of consciousness, a process that also takes place within the realms of literature and art (Lechte 33-35). This approach distinguishes Kristeva's study of poetic language, whose meaning for the most part escapes the speaking subject since it includes a "heterogeneousness " to meaning-that is, a plurality of meaning-that threat~ ens the collapse of the signifying function (Desire124-35; Revolution 57-61). Furthermore, as Kristeva has brilliantly shown in her studies of Mallarme and Lautreaumont, the literary, poetic text is the miseen sceneof the unconscious.4 CALfOPE Vol. II, No. 2 (1996): pages 85-104 86 ~ Marfa Antonia Garces ~ Kristeva's work concentrates on the physical, material aspect of language, namely, on the "musical" and nonsense effects-such as a particular rhythm or intonation-that destroy accepted beliefs and significations and, sometimes, even syntax itself. These heterogeneous textual operations signal the presence of poetic language (Desire133). Defined by Kristeva as almost an otherness of language in which the dialectics of the subject is inscribed (Desire25), poetic language reveals a rhythmic rapture, a repetitive sonority which thrusts within and against the system of language. The conflict between semiotic rhythms and symbolic constraints (the system of language) comes to the fore in two of Cervantes's best known works: Lagitanillaand El licenciado Vidriera.While the first narrative exhibits in particular the musicalor poetic side of language, the latter exposes the unsettling process brought about by the operations of poetic language , one that questions the identity-and nearly accomplishes the destruction-of the speaking subject.5 By focussing initially on Cervantes's relation to poetry, I propose to explore the crisis of meaning and the disorderly multiplicity that .characterize poetic language in these novellas, both of which deal with questions of alterity and Cervantine poetics. · "Yo,socarr6n; yo poet6nya viejo" A cursory view of Spanish literature in the second half of the sixteenth - and first half of the seventeenth-century exposes such a concentration of poetic talent that warrants calling this period an age of poetry. Certainly, the major achievements of Spanish literature around the time of Cervantes's birth (1547) belong to poetry. It is poetry that is felt to be the pure canonical voice of literature, its perfect incarnation, in opposition to history. Cervantes's return to Spain after his releas~ from captivity in 158bcoincides with the explosion of poetic forms that started with the appearance of Herrera's famous commentary on the ,poetry of Garcilaso. Such outbursts of poetic activity extended into the following decades with the work of Quevedo, Lope de Vega...


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