Class 9/10 – Text

I had some difficulties -euphemism for a hard time- to follow the readings for this week. Though I am a curious reader, this is indeed a field I am totally foreign. In this post, I write about what a text is in Miller and Barthes, and why their understanding of what a text is entails different approaches for reading a text. Miller and Barthes represent a feminist and a (seemingly objective) metalinguistic and symbolic understanding of what a text is.

For Miller, the text, and reading a text, is not detached from any phenomenological, corporeal experience, which transcends the physical and linguistic boundaries of the text. In page 292, Miller says, “to reread [a text] as a woman is at least to imagine the lady’s place; to imagine while reading the place of a woman’s body; to read reminded that her identity is also re-membered in stories of the body.”

For Barthes, the text is radically symbolic, it is an open source, it is plural, and does not recognize any authority. The text does not exist outside the text, the textual activity, or better, outside the intertext. Paul Ricoeur in “The Model of the Text: Meaningful Action Considered as a Text,” in page 105, gives a definition of what a text is that has some family resemblance with Barthes’s understanding of a text. Ricoeur points out that the four traits that characterizes a text are: “(1) the fixation of the meaning, by which he means the objectivation of the text; (2) its dissociation from the mental intention of the author, what the text says is more important than what the author meant to say; (3) the display of nonostensive references; and (4) the universal range of its addressees, it is open to an infinite range of possible readers.”

In The Pleasure of the Text, in pages 35-36, Barthes says intertext explains the experience of reading a text:

“Reading a text cited by Stendhal (but not written by him) I find Proust in one minute detail. The Bishop of Lescars refers to the niece of his vicar-general in a series of affected apostrophes (My little niece, my little friend, my lovely brunette, ah, delicious little morsel!) which remind me of the way the two post girls at the Grand Hotel at Balbec, Marie Geneste and Celeste Albaret, address the narrator (Oh, the little black-haired devil, oh, tricky little devil! Ah, youth! Ah, lovely skin!). Elsewhere, but in the same way, in Flaubert, it is the blossoming apple trees of Normandy which I read according to Proust. I savor the sway of formulas, the reversal of origins, the ease which brings the anterior text out of the subsequent one. I recognize that Proust’s work, for myself at least, is the reference work, the general mathesis, the mandala of the entire literary cosmogony-as Mme de Sevigne’s letters were for the narrator’s grandmother, tales of chivalry for Don Quixote, etc.; this does not mean that I am in any way a Proust “specialist”: Proust is what comes to me, not what I summon up; not an “authority,” simply a circular memory. Which is what the inter-text is: the impossibility of living outside the infinite text-whether this text be Proust or the daily newspaper or the television screen: the book creates the meaning, the meaning creates life.”