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Dr. Jerome Game

Thesis abstract

Expression as Becoming: A Poetics of the Virtual in the works of Christian Prigent, Dominique Fourcade, Olivier Cadiot, and Hubert Lucot

In my dissertation I show how the poems and prose of Christian Prigent, Dominique Fourcade, Olivier Cadiot, and Hubert Lucot form an important, radicalised moment of French literary modernity. This is the first study of these authors in English. I look at how their poetry and prose determine subjectivity and identity as contingent and transient process rather than as substance or nature. This contention requires a reflection on the question of time and on how it has informed French modernity since Baudelaire gave substance to this notion.

To that end, I assess the key concepts of Gilles Deleuze's ontological constructivism (multiplicity, becoming, line, arrangement, rhizome, de- and re-territorialisation) and I show how Deleuze's theory of expression locates literature in a semiotics (a theory of signs in general) rather than in a semiology (a theory of linguistic signs in particular). In addition, I establish how Deleuzian semiotics is structured around the play of the virtual and the becoming. Whilst the virtual is the infinite of meaning, the becoming – or actualisation – is the specific yet precarious forms that meaning takes. The virtual hence presupposes a non-chronological temporality that Deleuze, after Nietzsche, calls Aiôn or the Aiônic, and in which the infinite of meaning insists or persists in actual forms.

From this theoretical standpoint, I single out the crucial notions of percepts and affects which differ respectively from those of perception and affection in that they are impersonal, that is to say autonomised from the human, biographic, substratum in which they first appear. They are pure sensations exceeding any lived experience and memory. Affects relate to the non-human becomings of man when percepts are made of the non-human landscapes of nature, making those who experience them sensitive to the forces of becoming.

By a complex labour on language transforming signifiers into affects and percepts, creative literature is then defined as that which frees (or de-territorialises) meaning from preset signifieds and thus reveals the power of the virtual which usually remains over-shadowed in conventional uses of language. I argue that such a complex labour on language is nothing else than literary style, which I define as the ability to grasp Life amongst the living – i.e., percepts – and to produce unknown, impersonal becomings – i.e., affects – rather than to narrate one's personal feelings or deeds. Far from being a specific essence, literature is just the most intense use of language (materialistic rather than spiritualist definition of literature). Identifying affects and percepts in the specific formal features of literary texts and studying their forces thus constitutes the core of the Deleuzian criticism of literature that I put forward and that I call a poetics of the virtual.

I then look at the writings of my four authors. The poetic writings of Christian Prigent and Dominique Fourcade present a productivist subjectivity by addressing the body, contingency, and language inrelation to the theme of desire.

Olivier Cadiot's and Hubert Lucot's narratives tell the evolution of a subjectivity that, instead of being fixed and rigid, always remains in process. These critical objectives are achieved by close readings isolating the features of style, semantics, and syntax that destructure subjectivity and identity into a non-personal writing.

Studying these different writings together has allowed me to explore the general pertinence of the poetics of the virtual as critical paradigm and it has substantiated my overall argument by confronting it to a diversity of styles – the constructivist and non-chronological aspect of the real, of subjectivity, of meaning itself can only be apprehended in the interior movement of a text. In a genealogical approach, I argue that these four writers re-contextualise the key questions of modernity – the present as mix of pure past and contingent new – by exposing the constructibility of being and history via affects and percepts arranged in semantic andsyntactic inventions.

In conclusion, contemporary French literature presents subjectivity and identity as a pure productivism and such a determination takes part in a new political radicalism. The originality of my thesis lies in its ability to relate contemporary – and previously unstudied – texts to a major philosophy of modernity, so as to show how part of contemporary literature is an original radicalisation of the key-elements of literary modernity whose political implications are far-reaching.

This page last modified 26 September, 2012 by Andrew PInk

Book cover: Muamma

Book cover: Unpacking the collection

imag: book cover, Federica  Mazzara

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