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Kristevan themes in “Sula” and “The Bluest Eye”

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  1. Introduction
  2. Julia Kristeva and other French feminists
  3. The new language
  4. Feminine language
  5. The failure of words
  6. The self/other dichotomy
  7. A unity deeper than language
  8. Language: Inherently gendered and inherently political
  9. Bibliography

When Morrison describes her attempt to express black feminine subjectivity in The Bluest Eye, she claims that, ?the problem, of course, was language?(211). According to Morrison, ? ?civilized' languages debase humans?(Afterward, 216). Pauline, Pecola's mother, finds herself ?oppressed by words?(112). How could Morrison express her characters' subjectivity using a language that inherently ?debases? and ?oppresses? it? What happens to Pecola is literally unspeakable, and Nel and Sula share a bond that is in many ways beyond language. To give voice to Pecola and Sula's silences, language itself would have to be subverted and rewritten. Morrison reinvents language, filling her story with a language of laughter, belches, and cries in which female characters strain against the bonds of masculine language to represent their own subjectivity. To explain the revolutionary mode that Morrison employs, it is useful to turn to the French feminists.According to Lacan, we form our identities through ?alienation and subjection to paternal law?(Taylor). When we realize that our ?selves? are distinct from the world (and this is achieved primarily through the recognition of sexual difference from the mother) language forms as a way to communicate with that distinct world, to fill the gap of meaning (Kristeva). The semiotic stage, in which there ?are no distinctions?, is supplanted by a symbolic system that creates meaning through a self-other dichotomy. But what about a women, whose sexual difference from her mother, is not distinct? Lacan posits that language is inherently masculine because it is symbolic. Men submit to a ?law of the father?, which is essentially a law of alienation and symbolism.

[...] In a world where everything is categorized in terms of opposites, top or bottom, rich or poor, white or black, Nel lets out a cry that no bottom and had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow?(174). The semiotic connection between Nel and Sula, and its subsequent rupture, is thus finally expressed in a moment that transcends language. Morrison asserts time and time again that white male discourse is inherently unsuited to portraying black female subjectivity. In fact, oppressive discourse can infect and rupture female subjectivity, as in Pecola's case. [...]

[...] Kristevan imagery celebrates the imaginary, pre-symbolic realm (Kristeva), so it's no surprise Nel and Sula are linked on a subconscious level: was in dreams that the two girls first met?(51). They both long for a fellow dreamer, someone with which to ?share the delight of the dream?. Deeper than their individual egos is a semiotic consciousness that recognizes itself in another. Because this unity is deeper than language, it is characterized by a series of silences. In the passage that precedes the incident of Chicken Little, Nel and Sula dig a hole. [...]

[...] Their bodies and sensations are almost identical: ?underneath their dresses flesh tightened and shivered in the high coolness, their small breasts just now beginning to create some pleasant discomfort when they were lying on their stomachs?(58). The hole that Sula and Nel then dig is symbolic of their linked consciousnesses: ?together their worked until their two holes were one in the same?(58). This fusion is achieved without language, ?neither one had spoken a word?(59). Nel and Sula's relationship eventually fragments, represented by a ball of strings, which itself seems to be the a connection that can only be expressed organically. [...]

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