Julia Kristeva - who I'm reading in translation, for the purpose of this blog - is one of the most opaque writers I have ever read, particularly since I have no background in semiotics or in the kind of psychoanalytic language that Kristeva deals in. However, I have managed to decipher some points from Revolution in Poetic Language and A New Type of Intellectual: The Dissident which seem to speak directly to Stein's breed of linguistic detour - and, more generally, to a feminine break with rationality.
Starting with Revolution in Poetic Language, I present an illustration - Kristeva 101, if you will (adapted directly from my notes):
Got that? In other words, since poetry has no identifiable referent, it enters the world of the symbolic - and in so doing, it desanctifies the absolute relationship between subject and object. The symbolic is, however, mediated by external forces which impose order and situate poetic language within a sphere of meaning. (In other words, if I say "patriarchy," your education and cultural background will color your interpretation of the word; it will not float in an ungoverned sea of nebulous meaning.)
So where does this become a feminine process? Here:
Indifferent to language, enigmatic and feminine, this space underlying the written is rhythmic, unfettered, irreducible to its intelligible verbal translation; it is musical, anterior to judgement, but restrained by a single guarantee: syntax. (p. 97)
Not to toot my own horn, but doesn't this sound just a little like what I was saying earlier about Gertrude Stein's rhythmic constellations? And to put a finer point on Kristeva's feminism, I turn to A New Type of Intellectual: The Dissident.
Here, Kristeva argues that, because they are not a part of the masculine logic which governs politics and history, women are dissidents. They can only take part in society if they adopt masculine logic; however, operating from a space of exile, the symbolic order of the feminine - concerned with the savage generative forces of maternity - is deeply connected with life, death, and creation (both physical and artistic). For your delectation, I reprint the concluding paragraph of The Dissident:
If it is true that the sudden surge of women and children in discourse poses insoluble questions for Reason and Right, it is because this surge is also yet another symptom of the Death of Man (with all the intolerable consequences that this entails for classical rationality and individuality). So the sole sublation of Death is perhaps not a Resurrection: what form could the Transcendence take, if the Beyond has already become incarnate in Madness? And it is even less a Renaissance: since the enlightened Prince has ended up working for the Politbureau or the Corporation. But through the efforts of thought in language, or precisely through the excesses of the languages whose very multitude is the only sign of life, one can attempt to bring about multiple sublations of the unnameable, the unrepresentable, the void. This is the real cutting edge of dissidence. (p. 300)
Though Kristeva and Stein approach the subject from diametrically opposite poles, they both come to the same conclusion: through poetic language - particularly through a uniquely feminine excess of meaning - we can revolt against the rational and draw constellations around the void.
Addendum: Not directly related to this, but certainly relevant, are debates surrounding the value of academic, scholarly, or "inaccessible" language (I'm thinking specifically of Judith Butler, partly because I'm reading her at the moment but also because, as well as being difficult to read, she happens to also deal with gender issues). Opacity is not equivalent to feminism (obviously) - and given the social context it can be used as a tool of intellectual exclusion. However, the fact that Kristeva, Stein, and Butler are all hard to read in different ways makes me wonder if there might be a qualitatively different "feminine opacity," as opposed to a traditionally masculine academicism, which seems to manifest itself in tortuous syntax and mind-numbingly precise lines of argumentation.
It seems to me Kristeva is using "masculine" logic to argue for a feminine madness, an unnameable, inaccessible void - and in many ways, Gertrude Stein seems to come to the same conclusion by a more "feminine," anti-syntactical route. Butler, perplexingly, argues for inaccessibility as a means of stimulating more critical reading, yet she views this criticism within the (already "masculine") construct of what it means to be critical.
Hmph. This will have to remain an open question - we will see how these ideas are borne out as the semester progresses...