The life and death of language. A Kristevan reading of the poets Gwyneth Lewis and Medbh McGuckian

Zoe Brigley Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

This reading of Gwyneth Lewis (born 1959) and Medbh McGuckian (born 1950) considers language and identity through the frame of Julia Kristeva’s ideas about foreignness, strangeness and abjection. For Lewis, the focus is the loss of Cymraeg (the Welsh language), while McGuckian’s key poems present lost languages and minor modes of speaking. The death of Cymraeg and Gaelige (the Irish language) is read through Kristevan theory, which helps to explore the consequent abject breakdown of selfhood. For both poets, the death of language is worked through European poetics, in which a metaphysical distance allows fresh comment on culture and identity. For Lewis, this dictates a dialogue with Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926), while McGuckian gestures to the poetics of Osip Mandelstam (1891–1938). What emerges is ekstasis, a state that Kristeva describes as going beyond oneself, and ekstasis is represented by both poets through the figure of the angel. The appearance of the angel after the breakdown of language and identity represents possibilities in being exiled from a stable sense of self, which in itself reflects the potential of minor or marginal cultures.
Original languageEnglish
JournalOrbis Litterarum
Volume64
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2009

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Language
Poet
Poetics
Angels
Strangeness
Abjection
Rainer Maria Rilke
Foreignness
Metaphysical
Irish Language
Welsh Language
Julia Kristeva
Poem
Selfhood
Abject
Gesture

Cite this

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title = "The life and death of language. A Kristevan reading of the poets Gwyneth Lewis and Medbh McGuckian",
abstract = "This reading of Gwyneth Lewis (born 1959) and Medbh McGuckian (born 1950) considers language and identity through the frame of Julia Kristeva’s ideas about foreignness, strangeness and abjection. For Lewis, the focus is the loss of Cymraeg (the Welsh language), while McGuckian’s key poems present lost languages and minor modes of speaking. The death of Cymraeg and Gaelige (the Irish language) is read through Kristevan theory, which helps to explore the consequent abject breakdown of selfhood. For both poets, the death of language is worked through European poetics, in which a metaphysical distance allows fresh comment on culture and identity. For Lewis, this dictates a dialogue with Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926), while McGuckian gestures to the poetics of Osip Mandelstam (1891–1938). What emerges is ekstasis, a state that Kristeva describes as going beyond oneself, and ekstasis is represented by both poets through the figure of the angel. The appearance of the angel after the breakdown of language and identity represents possibilities in being exiled from a stable sense of self, which in itself reflects the potential of minor or marginal cultures.",
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The life and death of language. A Kristevan reading of the poets Gwyneth Lewis and Medbh McGuckian. / Brigley Thompson, Zoe.

In: Orbis Litterarum, Vol. 64, No. 5, 01.10.2009.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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