All entries for Friday 01 December 2006

December 01, 2006

Toccata and Fugue for the Foreigner (Continued)

Follow-up to Toccata and Fugue for the Foreigner from The Midnight Heart


Krsiteva discusses here how the foreigner uses indifference as a ‘shield’. The foreigner appraently has to withdraw: ‘This is because his being kept apart corresponds to his remaining aloof, as he pulls back into the painless score of what is called a soul the humbleness that. when all is said and done, amounts to plain brutality’ (7) (?). Apparently, the foreigner ‘takes pride in holding a truth that is perhaps simply a certainty – the ability to reveal the crudest aspects of human relationships when seduction fades out and properties give way before the results of confrontations’ (7). The foreigner ‘confronts everyone with an asymbolia [loss of the power to understand previously familiar symbols and signs] that rejects civility and returns to a violence laid bare’ (7).

The space of the foreigner is a moving train, a plane in flight, the very transition that precludes stopping.

To describe the self-confidence of the foreigner, Kristeva uses the following images: ‘an oyster shut under the flooding tide or the expressionless joy of warm stones’ (8). She notes that the foreigner is caught between courage and humiliation and is engaged in a ‘secret working out’ (8). When the foreigner crosses a border, the difficulties that he suffers make his identity stronger. In a rather speculative statement, Kristeva suggests that had the foreigner remained in his native country, he may ‘have become a drop-out, an invalid, a lawyer’ (8). [Is this because Kristeva is referring indirectly to Camus’ The Outsider?] However she makes some interesting comments about acting:

Without a home, he disseminates on the contrary the actor’s paradox: multiplying masks and “false selves” he is never completely true nor completely false, as he is able to tune in to loves and aversions the superficial antennae of a basaltic heart. A headstrong will, but unaware of itself, unconscious, distraught. The breed of the tough guys who know how to be weak. (8)

[Is Kristeva referring directly to Camus’ The Outsider here?] Amongst these difficulties, the stranger may wonder if their self exists at all?

Kristeva points out the paradox here that once the foreigner finds an action or passion within a society, they begin to become rooted. When they do become attached to a cause, job or person, the fusion that occurs is of one being consumed by an other. Because the foreigner has severed his ties to home, he cannot express love or hate, but must ‘wander about the world, neutral but solaced for having developed an interior distance from the fire and ice that had seared them in the past’ (9). [Again is this Camus’ stranger that she is referring to?]

A Melancholia
The foreigner dreams of a lost paradise to which he cannot return, rather he is ‘a dreamer making love with absence’(10).

Ironists and Believers
The foreigner is not simply torn between here and elsewhere. Rather ‘the foreigner belongs nowhere’ (10). Kristeva notes that there are two kinds of foreigners:
1. Ironists emerge from ‘those who waste away in an agonizing struggle between what no longer is and what will never be—the followers of neutrality, the advocates of emptiness; they are not necessarily defeatists, they often become the best of ironists’ (10);
2. Believers are ‘those who transcend: living neither before nor now but beyond, they are bent with a passion that although tenacious, will remain forever unsatisfied. It is a passion for another land, always a promised one, that of an occupation, a love, a child, a glory. They are believers and they sometimes ripen into skeptics.’ (10)

Foreigners do not always wander alone but meet with others:

A crossroad of two othernesses, it welcome sthe foreigner to his visitor without committing him. A mutual recognition that the meeting owes its success to its temporary nature… (11)

The believer needs meeting, and while the cynic does not actively seek meetings, he needs them too.

Sole Liberty
The foreigner is free of ties and so he lives in a kind of solitude. He is rejected for his uniqueness, yet he longs for affiliation.

A Hatred
Pain and familiarity create hatred in the foreigner. According to Kristeva the foreigner ‘lies in wait, reassured each time to discover that it never misses an appointment, bruised on account of always missing love, but almost pleased with the persistence—real or imaginary?—of detestation (12) [generalizing too much here]. Kristeva’s next comments seem to respond to the pain and difficulty felt by the foreigner and suggest a means to repair such damage:

Living with the other, with the foreigner, confronts us with the possibility or not of being an other . It is not simply—humanistically—a matter of our being able to accept the other, but of being in his place, and this means to imagine and make oneself other for oneself. Rimbaud’s Je est un autre was not only the acknowledgement of the psychotic ghost that haunts poetry. The word foreshadowed the exile, the possibility or necessity to be foreign and to live in a foreign country, thus heralding the art of living in a modern era, the cosmopolitanism of those who have been flayed. Being alienated from myself, as painful as that may be, provides me with that exquisite distance within which perverse pleasure begins, as well as the possibility of my imagining and thinking, the impetus of my culture. (14)

Finally Kristeva wonders whether in order to feel oneself to be a foreigner in another country, one has to initially be a foreigner from within.

The Silence of Polyglots
Kristeva suggests that when one denies a mother-tongue, one is ‘bearing within oneself like a secret vault […] cherished and useless—that language of the past that withers without ever leaving you’ (13). Between two languages, the foreigner’s ‘realm is silence’ (14).

The Former Separations From the Body” (Mallarme, “Cantique de Saint Jean”)
The foreigner apparently finds it difficult to disagree with the native and wonders whether he should challenge ‘the native’s assurance’ (17). Kristeva writes: ‘Those who have never lost the slightest root seem to you unable to understand any word liable to temper their point of view’ (17). How can the wanderer relate to the native?

Immigrants, Hence Workers
While some natives disdain to work, Foreigners often are workers. They find themselves a niche and work hard. [Too much generalization from Kristeva here.] The children of foreigners however prefer to live the dolce vita. [Far too much speculation here.]

Slaves and Masters
Who is the slave and who the master in this society? While modernity means that as global subjects, we are all likely to feel foreign in out travels at one time or another, the categories of ‘master’ and ‘slave’ are not as concrete as they once were, according to Kristeva.

Every native feels himself to be more or less a “foreigner” in his “own and proper” place, and that metaphorical value of the word “foreigner” first leads the citizen to a feeling of discomfort as to his sexual, national, political, professional identity. Next it impels him to identify—sporadically, to be sure, but nonetheless intensely—with the other. (19)

Void or Baroque Speech
The speech of foreigners is often ignored, but when it is heard it is listened to with fascination for its strangeness. The native listener hears the speech with an absent or amused manner. Kristeva refers to Balthasar Gracián and James Joyce.

In being away from home, foreigners are often separated from their parents and family and so they are also separated from a sense of a shared past. Thinking about identity in this way makes the parents a source of strength, but in becoming a foreigner, the subject is also foreign to his own parents.

Do You Have Any Friends?
The foreigner’s friends ‘could only be those who feel foreign to themselves’ according to Kristeva (23). There are also paternalists, paranoid persons and perverse people who are attracted by foreigners. [This is spinning off into a whole world of generalization which seems very inappropriate.] Kristeva believes that it is not enough for foreigners of the world to ‘unite’ (24). She writes how ‘just because one is a foreigner does not mean one is without one’s own foreigner’ (24). Foreigners exclude other foreigners.

The “Mersault Case” or “We are all like Mersault”
Kristeva now turns to Camus’ The Stranger (or I think in some editions it is translated as The Outsider). As a foreigner, the protagonist Mersault seems to take on all of the attributes that Kristeva allocates to the foreigner: difficulty concerning his mother, lack of sensation and difficulties of consciousness. Problems with his mother and father dictate an inner exile and that other within makes him a stranger to others. Through dissociation, he maintains an interior distance or aloofness. He is aware of the futility of words and after the murder, he would prefer death to speaking. Kristeva believes that the oddness of his condition is the ordinary life of the foreigner.

Dark Origins
For the foreigner often there is a tension between elsewhere and one’s origins. Again Kristeva returns to the mother as a source of difficulty and the foreigner’s cosmopolitanism.

Explosion: Sex or Disease
This section is one that I find particularly disagreeable because of the general terms in which Kristeva speaks. Is she talking about Camus’ stranger? It is not clear and this makes it very ambiguous. Kristeva suggests that for the foreigner in a new country, nothing is prohibited: ‘Exile is a shattering of the former body’ (30). Apparently foreigners have no regard for sexual taboos and there is an implication that they are spreaders of Aids and other STDs. In a suggestion that borders on racism, Kristeva asks us to examine Spanish and Moslem women who settle in France and experiences an ‘erotic outburst’ (30). Kristeva tells a few anecdotes of this nature and concludes: ‘The foreigner who imagines himself to be free of borders, by the same token challenges any sexual limit’ (31). Kristeva links this to audacious uses of language too.

An Ironic Wandering or the Polymorphous Memory of Sebastian Knight
Kristeva turns to The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Nabokov, a novel which tells the biography of a Russian Anglophile. According to Kristeva, the story of Knight shows the ‘essential polymorphism of writing itself’ (33).

I merely wish to emphasize one of the strands of that implacable relativism: the cosmopolitanism, the shuttling back and forth of the two idioms (Russian and English), set, in the case of Knight, at the heart of something indiscernible that unbalances a man and replaces him with a language mispronounced into style. (34)

The character of Sebastian Knight fits Kristeva’s category of the foreigner because he is lacking in unified selfhood, he perceives his own foreignness with irony, he has problems with language and through his awareness and acceptance of his own difference, he finds solitude. For Knight, ‘[t] he lost woman—lost land, lost language—cannot be found’ (36). Like Camus’ stranger, Knight has difficulty with his mother, and speaks her tongue as if to bring her back to life.

Why France?
According to Kristeva, France is obsessed with foreignness. It lacks ‘the tolerance of Anglo-American protestants’, ‘the absorbent ease of the Latin Americans’ and ‘the curiosity of the Germans or Slavs’ (all of these racial stereotypes). Rather it has ‘a compact social texture and an unbeatable national pride’ (38). An inability to speak French damns the foreigner, as does a lack of good taste (many assumptions here about the foreigner!). In response, the foreigner either tries to become part of French culture or he withdraws. However, in France, the foreigner is always an object of fascination. Kristeva notes that France is not more racist than other countries, but there is a preoccupation with one’s relation to others.


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