From Phrase to Fantasy: Roland Barthes and the Knowledge of Imagination

Different approaches to literature in literary theory can often be reduced to Lacan’s four fundamental discourses. However, in his later work, Roland Barthes investi¬gates the possibility of another, alternative discourse, namely that of the lover. In this discourse, the Imaginary plays a key role. The Barthesian Imaginary functions as an active (in the Nietzschean sense of the word) and creative hermeneutic tool. Important here is the Phrase, a literary sentence supplied by the discourse of the Other, that almost “magically” helps us to name something of our desire. Barthes also closely links this Phrase to his interpretation of the fantasy as the moving force behind our reading. In this way, literature forces us, as subjects of desire, into confrontation with the deconstructed, but indestructible, sinthome of our love, our desire: our ego.

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Interpretation as/of Fiction. Julia Kristeva’s point of view

In this article, the author examines the validity of an interpretation of literature based on psychoanalytical theory. In the first part, he considers the metaphor that compares the text to a woman and the woman to a text, and investigates the relationship between the (psychoanalytical) interpretation of desire, and the desire for interpretation itself. Is the place where a text longs for an interpretation not also the place where the interpreter yearns for his long lost object a? Moreover, is the text, like an accomplished femme fatale, not able to use this desire against us? The author argues that any reading of a text is influenced by this desire. This makes it impossible to master a text, just as it was impossible for Sigmund Freud and his literary pendant Sherlock Holmes, both outwitted by the women they believed they mastered. In the second part of the paper, the author gives an overview of the theoretical work of Julia Kristeva, who rejects too rigid an opposition between the word and the body, between the symbolic father and the pre-oedipal mother. This also implies that our bodily desire and our knowledge are inseparably linked. In the last part of the text, Kristeva’s theory is used to propose an alternative reading strategy, as a mixture of jouissance and savoir, a strategy that creates, rather than discovers, truth. Opposed to the idea of an absolute Truth, as much as resisting an absolute nihilism, reading is presented as an act that brings us “in process”. If every theory is an imaginary construction, a fiction, Kristeva shows us the importance of this fiction in giving the subject the chance to create a poetic language for his desire.

“If only I could be able to write it all down”: Gerard Reve and the useless language of desire

In this article, the reader is introduced to the fascinating fictional universe created by the Dutch writer Gerard Reve. Far from searching for the person behind the work, we examine how Reve creates his personality through his fiction, how he forges a new language for his (homosexual) desire: a mixture of irony and religious piety, of romantic and vulgar idioms, of fairy tales and memories, a language that enables him to cope with his fears and his disturbed relationship with his parents. It is argued, with reference to the theoretical framework of Kristeva, that Reve’s work helps to assure his subjectivity, to protect him from “going mad” as he puts it, but at the same time also provides a place where, via the irony, the metaphors, the style, the humour, via everything that defies the symbolic law, the writer celebrates the jouissance of the Other, in the text.