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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Beginning: Tel Quel in the 1960s

  • Author(s): Landry, Matthew Peterson
  • Advisor(s): Miller, Tyrus
  • et al.

The Beginning: Tel Quel in the 1960s presents an overview of this literary journal in the first half of its history. Its book publications are taken as the primary source materials, and each chapter deals with one publication in particular in order to describe each author’s respective writing style, being the primary trope in the theory of literary production underlying its approach to literary journalism. Demonstrating how this theory is an inherent contingency of its own mode of production, combining works of literature with literary theory, this serves as a practical inquiry into Julia Kristeva’s semiotic theory of paragrammatic writing, a key insight into the Tel Quel’s collective theories of the “text” and “poetic language.” As a reaction to this semiotic approach, my argument proceeds by means of a self-conscious application of linguistics to works of literature that anticipate a reader’s familiarity with their related theoretical works. As such, it elaborates the texts’ own appropriation of linguistics in order to locate the basis of the various modes of interpretation they entail. The journal itself is included throughout as the object of its contributors’ investigation into literary production, or “textual production” as they preferred to call it in distinction to the literary market. By combining these two approaches, the linguistic and the economic, each individual chapter gradually unravels Tel Quel’s “group theory.” I argue that this merging of linguistics and economics forms the basis of a theory of the ways in which a work of literature plays a role in the formation of its own reading practices. Drawing out the elaboration of this specifically Telquelian form of theorization primarily based on “poetic language,” each chapter works through various modes of reading as defined in relation to generic conventions as an investigation into the question of style. Kristeva’s concepts are shown at work in the poets Denis Roche and Marcelin Pleynet, the novelist Jean Thibaudeau, and finally in Kristeva’s own interpretation of Philippe Sollers’s Nombres, in which she expands significantly on her theory of the paragram, moving from the human sciences to science considered more generally as a discourse, as a “semanalysis.”

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