The Lyric Subject

A Reconceptualization

by Varja Balžalorsky Antić (Author)
©2022 Monographs 310 Pages
Series: Literary and Cultural Theory, Volume 59


This book interrogates the concept of the subject in the poem, against the broader background of literary-theoretical issues related to the lyric subject. Specifically, what kind of subject is the subject in the poem? What relation does it have to other forms of subjectivation that human beings experience in their life practices? What is its singularity?
“The Lyric Subject is a most impressive achievement: a shrewd evaluation of a wide range of writings (philosophical, linguistic, literary) bearing on the question of the lyric subject. With myriad poetic examples, Varja Balzˇalorsky Antic´ develops a rich, multileveled mapping of the various forms of subjectivity and agency in the lyric.”
Jonathan Culler, Professor Emeritus at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Contents
  • Part I
  • Chapter 1 The Question of Discourse: Toward a Literary Discourse
  • Enunciation, the Semantic and the Semiotic Mode
  • Chapter 2 The Question of the Subject in Philosophy and Social Sciences
  • The Subject in Philosophy
  • The Subject in the Social Sciences
  • Chapter 3 The Question of the Lyric
  • Changes in Modern Genre Theory
  • Genre as the Reality of Discourse
  • The Lyric
  • The Lyric Subject and Modern Genre Theory
  • Part II
  • Chapter 4 A Note on Terminology
  • Chapter 5 Historical Fragments: Two Tendencies
  • Charles Batteux: Les Beaux-Arts réduits à un même principe
  • Hegel on the Lyric
  • The Renaissance and Furor Divinus
  • The Romantic Paradigm
  • Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music
  • The Emergence of the Concept of Lyrisches Ich
  • Chapter 6 The Lyric Subject in Modern Literary Theory
  • The Lyric Subject in The Logic of Literature by K. Hamburger (A Revised Reading)
  • The Lyric and the Lyric Subject
  • Karlheinz Stierle: The Identity of Discourse and the Transgressivity of the Lyric and Its Subject
  • Anthony Easthope’s Poetry as Discourse
  • Proceedings on the Lyric Subject in the Francophone World
  • Transgeneric Narratological Approaches in the English and German-Speaking Worlds
  • The Lyric Subject in Slovenian Literary Studies: Janko Kos
  • Chapter 7 Modern Views on the Subject of the Poem
  • The Phenomenology of the Affective: The Poetic Subject as an Affective-Pathic Subject
  • Emil Staiger
  • Antonio Rodriguez: A Synthesis of Phenomenologies of the Affective
  • Sensing, Flesh, Stimmung
  • Julia Kristeva’s Semanalysis: The Process of Signifying the Process of the Subject
  • From the Sign to the Text as an Activity of Signifying
  • The Subject-in-Process: The Fragmentation of the Unitary Subject
  • Semiotic Chora, Semiotic, Thetic, and Symbolic
  • The Genotext and the Phenotext
  • A Final Note on Kristeva’s Semanalysis
  • Part III
  • Chapter 8 The Process of the Text and Subjectifying: An Initial Sketch
  • Chapter 9 Ricœur’s Dialectic of Ipse and Idem in the Lyric Persona
  • Chapter 10 A Rereading of Bakhtin’s Theses About Poetry
  • Chapter 11 Ducrot’s Polyphonic Theory of Enunciation
  • Chapter 12 Benveniste: Subjectifying in Language
  • Benveniste’s Notes About Baudelaire as the Beginnings of His Theory of Poetic Language
  • Chapter 13 Henri Meschonnic’s Poetics of Discourse
  • References of the Poetics of Discourse
  • Critique of the Linguistic Sign: Signifiance, Multiple Signifier, Recitative, Continuous, Historicity
  • The Reconceptualization of Rhythm
  • The Subject in the Poetics of Discourse
  • The Transsubject as a Space of Individual and Collective Dialogic Subjectivation
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 14 The Nonegological Theories of the Individual
  • The Individual
  • Immediate Consciousness
  • Parallels between Benveniste’s Linguistics of Discourse and Meschonnic’s Poetics of Discourse and Nonegological Theories
  • Schleiermacher’s Style and Prereflexive Consciousness
  • The Prereflexive and Reflexive in (Poetic) Discourse
  • Part IV
  • Chapter 15 The Poetic Subject and Subject Configuration of the Poem
  • Chapter 16 Case Study 1: The Poetic Subject in Troubadour Poetry
  • Reference Works About the Subject in Troubadour Poetry
  • Elements of Subjectivation in Medieval Philosophy
  • The Lyric Persona and Intertextuality
  • The Level of Enunciation and the Enounced; Metapoem, Performative
  • The Orchestration of Focalizations and Voices
  • Meaning-Making in Enunciation: Form–Meaning– Body–Subject
  • The Intertwinement of Poems and Music: The Melodic Subject, the Collective Subject
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 17 Case Study 2: Analysis of the Poetic Subject in Henri Michaux’s Poem “The Slowed Down”
  • The Matrix of Michaux’s Female Poetics
  • Between the Fullness and Emptiness of the Ego
  • Flow, Fusion, Division: The Subject of the Enounced and Focalizations
  • Enunciation
  • Coherence: Isotopies
  • Recitative in “The Slowed Down”
  • Rhythm and Semantic Prosody
  • Accentual Rhythm
  • Semantic Prosody
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 18 Recapitulation and Systematization of Subject Configuration
  • Level of Text Organization: The Textual Subject, Recitative
  • The Dimension of Enunciation as the Mediative Dimension of the Storyworld: The Subject of Enunciation
  • The Level of the Storyworld and the Enounced: The Lyric Persona, Focal Points of Subjectivity
  • Perspective and Focalization
  • Additional Parameters in the Establishment and Analysis of Subject Configuration
  • Dimensions of Discursive Situations
  • Personal Pronouns
  • Temporality
  • Temporal and Spatial Deictics
  • Appendix I Henri Michaux: “La Ralentie”
  • Henri Michaux: “The Slowed Down”
  • Appendix II Basic Schema of the Subject Configuration
  • Subject Configuration in the Poem
  • Perspectives and Focalizations
  • Bibliography
  • Index of Subjects
  • Index of Names
  • Series Index

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Chapter 1 The Question of Discourse: Toward a Literary Discourse

For some time, an emerging theory of literary discourse has appeared to many scholars in the field as not only an emergency exit from the general crises of global literary studies but as a renaissance of the discipline. In the last four decades, the field of literary criticism has become aware of the antimonies produced by the various turns that convulsed the social sciences and the humanities during the twentieth century. On the one hand, the great modern systems of literary theory still largely depended on essentialist approaches to literature. On the other hand, the emerging postmodern methodological pluralism tended toward interdisciplinary inquiry within cultural studies where literary theory and literary history were absorbed by transdisciplinary Theory (Culler 2000a: 3–15; Rabaté 2002: 1–20, 46–92; Juvan 2011: 33–34).2 The backdrop of the developments within postmodern relativism was and still is the retreat from logocentric metaphysical essentialism. In the field of literary criticism, this shift implied an interrogation of the alleged autonomy of art and literature. Doubt was cast on essentialist characterizations of literature, and the distinction between literary and non-literary practices was theoretically undermined in, at the very least, the most radical poststructuralist gestures. In light of all of this, literary studies were compelled to freeze the picture and begin a sort of self-imposed rehabilitation. At the same time, those in the discipline became aware of the fact that the transformation of its foundations could only happen by simultaneously directing their gaze back onto its primary object, which was ultimately still literature itself.

When the French Nouvelle critique of the 1960s began to topple the primacy of positivist literary history with its dethronement of the author as a Modern-era institution of individualistic capitalist ideology, one of the results was the establishment of the total autonomy of the literary text and the stitching of this text into a closed, hermetic structure within a network of signs. The precedent for this move came from the structuralist’s (flat and often mistaken) deciphering of Saussure’s conception of language as an abstract system of signs. Accordingly, the subsequent poststructuralist loosening of the (literary) text into an infinite ←19 | 20→intertext occurred largely in the domains of language–system–code, and subjectless, anonymous, and autonomous iterability.

Theories of literary discourse sought to distance themselves from both of the mentioned principles with attempted conceptualizations of literature as discourse on the basis of theories that emphasize intersubjectivity and irreducible dialog within radically contingent historicity. The Slovenian theoretician Marko Juvan identifies a solution to the abovementioned antimony in the reflected inclusion of both tendencies (those of transdisciplinary Theory as well as those of theory) into the construction of a theory of literary discourse that would illuminate both its differentia specifica and its relationship to other social discourses and practices (Juvan 2011: 19–45). For Juvan, the specificity of literature, literariness, is to be meaningfully sought only on the level of discourse, and the communicative and interactive function of literature, which is grounded in intersubjectivity and identified as one of the central principles of literariness (Juvan 2011: 106). In search of the specifics of the interactive function of literary discourse, Juvan draws on Johansen’s typology of the five social discourses (theoretical, technical, practical, historical, and mimetic),3 wherein the mimetic dispositive of literature, that is, its capacity to represent both other existent discourses and its own, reveals itself as literature’s historical, anthropological, and sociological non-substitutability.

In what follows, we will be almost exclusively interested in the internal specificity of the lyric as a form of discourse. Thus, in order to clarify the orientation of our discussion, it is important to note here that we distance ourselves from the broader sociological conceptions of discourse, instead drawing on (philosophical-) linguistic theorizations that also have sociological-anthropological implications.

Inevitably, the central moments of all four methodological paradigms – the author, the work, the reader, the context – must be drawn into a discursive horizon because of their common denominator, attributed to them by the object of research itself – in this case, the lyric subject. What is at issue is not an appeal to theories of discourse in an attempt to unify the four moments under a single umbrella: that is, to adopt the position of the pragmatics of discourse and conceive of literary discourse as a repeated concretization of the communication model.4 Such a gesture would easily lead to a recourse to old frameworks that ←20 | 21→contain concepts of single meaning, pure intention, and pure effect under the guise of an analysis of the pragmatics of speech acts, insofar as the problem of speech-act theories is precisely their supposition of the unproblematic transmissibility of intention, that is, the encoding of intention into any utterance (as well as its repeatability, the basic demand of communication as such).5 While speech-act theories do treat the utterance as a pragmatic-semantic unit of discourse, the speech act in this register nonetheless remains at the level of type-code, as ←21 | 22→the idealization of a speech situation and the system of pragmatic conventions fails to understand the utterance as a concrete event in living language, thus remaining attached to the concept of language as a system of linguistic signs. Thus, the text would be analyzed as a neutral message whose primary identity and primary intention are always already given, the inscription of the creating subject and this inscription’s point of articulation in subsequent events of the text/utterance would remain uninterrogated, the reader’s involvement understood merely in the dimension of aisthesis, while literature itself would be reduced to the classical communication model, and its communicative dimension to the function of transmitting messages.6

Within the broad horizon of diverse theoretizations of discourse, our main references will be Émile Benveniste, who conceives of discourse in the sense of enunciation, Mikhail Bakhtin and his circle that developed similar or almost identical concepts to Benveniste before or contemporaneously with him, and Henri Meschonnic’s poetics of discourse. Among other things, all three thinkers share the conviction about the primacy of language [langage].7 within the humanities and social sciences. All three thinkers attribute a central role to literary and, more broadly, artistic discourse within the general theory of language.

Benveniste is one of the key figures of the golden age of French twentieth century thought, and his work represents a watershed in modern linguistics. Even so, his texts today are rarely read and, when they are, only partially (cf. Michon 2010: 24). Moreover, they are reinterpreted, particularly in the field of literary pragmatics, in ways that distance themselves from his points of departure and obscure the anthropological dimensions of his theories of language and discourse. Benveniste’s linguistics is often mistakenly characterized as structuralist, in complete contradiction to the manner in which his theory deployed concepts precisely as critiques of structuralism. If anything, the works of Benveniste’s early ←22 | 23→period might be compared to structural linguistics, which does not mean, however, that his theory can be classified as a poststructuralist theory, despite the fact that key figures in poststructuralism drew on it. If Benveniste’s production does temporally coincide with the peak of structuralism, Meschonnic published his first works precisely during the transition to poststructuralism. Were we to attempt to provisionally locate Benveniste and Meschonnic’s opuses on the map of the major schools of the humanities and social sciences in the second half of the twentieth century, we would encounter a number of conundrums. In terms of content, the two theoreticians belong neither to structuralism nor poststructuralism, although they did work in close relation and contemporaneously with them. Benveniste and Meschonnic developed a critical and theoretical platform that deviates from the structuralist paradigm with which poststructuralism relates more in terms of continuity than rupture. In short, we may conclude that both Benveniste and Meschonnic’s theories represent alternatives to and critiques of this paradigm, specifically in their conceptions of language, discourse, and the subject. These concepts gain traction both in the framework of linguistics and literary theory, despite the fact that both transgress boundaries between humanist disciplines and advocate transdisciplinarity, particularly Meschonnic and his “theory of the whole.”

Enunciation, the Semantic and the Semiotic Mode

Benveniste conceives of discourse largely in terms of enunciation. Enunciation is the central pillar of his theory, and notions of subjectifying in language, intersubjectivity, historicity, the semantic mode (without the semiotic mode), and others, are crucially connected to it. Benveniste conceives of enunciation [énonciation] as the act of producing the enounced,8 thereby distinguishing the concept both from the enounced [énoncé] and Saussure’s parole. Benveniste emphasizes the difference between parole, which corresponds to the dimension of the enounced, and discourse, which (in this sense) corresponds to enunciation, in the specific conditions of enunciation, that is, in the ceaselessly renewed act of production [énonciation, réénonciation], which is, significantly, not coincidental with the bare text of the enounced, parole (Benveniste 1974: 80).

Among the tenets of a theory of literary and specifically poetic discourse, and one that this argument promotes, is the conception of the poem as enunciation, a ←23 | 24→conception that, among other things, calls for thinking of the poem as an act and activity, that is, as a particular performance that is not limited to the enounced but spreads across the artistic text as a whole. Such a performance is self-referential, in Benveniste’s words: “referring to a reality that it itself constitutes by the fact that it is actually uttered in conditions that make it an act” (Benveniste 1971: 236). It is unique and unrepeatable, virtual and endless (carrying the possibility of endless new enunciations). However, in contrast to the performative speech-acts, it is not necessarily also conscious and intentional. Its activity is crucially connected to the subjectifying dimension (of the poem, of literature, of art).

The decisive insight that enabled the transition from a paradigm of language [la langue] to one of discourse is the discovery of the double-layered structure of all texts. Similar to Bakhtin (Bakthtin 1986: 105), Benveniste understands that each text is structured by two levels; the text is both language and more than language as conceived of as a system of signs (Benveniste 1974: 63). At the end of the eighteenth century, Friedrich Schleiermacher had already expounded similar views. In this respect, he could be characterized, along with his contemporary Wilhelm von Humboldt, as an important precursor to theories of discourse. Similar to Bakhtin and Benveniste, Humboldt understood language not as a product, that is, a form of labor [ergon], but rather as a form of activity [energeia], which is of crucially importance to the concept of discourse. In contrast, Schleiermacher believes that language emerges from speech acts. According to him, the speech act is characterized by a double-layered structure: the constant opposition between “use of reason … with the character of identity” and is encoded into language qua code, and “cognition . . . with the character of particularity, i.e. of non-transferability” (cited in Frank 1998: 11). On the basis of a similar insight into this double-layered structure, Benveniste derives the concept of two systems of signifying, the semiotic and the non-semiotic, which he calls the semantic. Semiotic systems are grounded in the production of meaning through signs (the system of language, the conventions of good manners, for example, Indian mudras), whereas non-semiotic systems are those “in which meaning is imparted by the author to the composition” (for example, artistic systems) (Benveniste 1985: 239). Among all these systems of signifying it is only language that carries within itself the ability to double signify (1974: 65), that is, that consists of the double-layered structure described by Schleiermacher and Bakhtin. Other systems of signifying are either merely semiotic (i.e. the conventions of good manners) or merely semantic (painting, music). This unique capacity for double signifying has an additional important consequence: language is the unique system that serves as the generator for the ←24 | 25→modeling of all other semiotic systems that compose society, and attributes to them the quality of a system of signs. At the same time, this means that language is the interpretant of all other systems, linguistic and non-linguistic (Benveniste 1974: 60); indeed, no system of signifying can be interpreted without the use of language. It is here that language emerges as the system that encompasses all other systems of signifying, including society itself (1974: 62).

The semiotic mode in language is that which Bakhtin identifies in his famous conclusion on the two poles of the text as the repeatable and the reproducible, and which is repeated and reproduced in text (1986: 105). Conversely, the semantic is that which is singular, unrepeatable, and eventmential. The semantic mode in language is the manner of signifying which can only be brought about by enunciation. Enunciation is the subject’s production of text; each unrepeatable event in the living sequence of any given text. It is only at this level, the level of enunciation, that (Bakhtin’s) dialogical relations can occur, and we can speak of (Benveniste’s) intersubjective subjectifying in language as well as societalization – these events being simultaneous. The semantic mode, however, has nothing in common with the linguistic sign that features in inquiries into the semiotic (that is, the repeatable), which is why an inquiry into the semantic order must devise a completely new conceptual apparatus (Benveniste 1974: 60). In the face of the inadequacy of the linguistic sign, writes Benveniste, it is necessary to open up a new dimension of signifying within intralinguistic analysis, named the semantic; on the translinguistic level, it is necessary to develop a “metasemantics” grounded in the semantics of enunciation (Benveniste 1974: 66).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (July)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 310 pp.

Biographical notes

Varja Balžalorsky Antić (Author)

Varja Balzˇalorsky Antic´ is a Slovenian literary theorist, poetess, and translator, currently teaching at the Universities of Ljubljana and Maribor. Her main research fields include theory of the lyric, poetry of 20th and 21st centuries, women’s writing, and Medieval French literature.


Title: The Lyric Subject