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2. The theories of semiotics: langue and parole, the signifier and the signified


a) The strategy of the text

The dialectic tension between langue and parole is the essence of every creative writing. If langue is the genetic code of a language, parole is the environmental contribution which, with its transgression with respect to conveying the characters, fortifies the language-monolith. In short, parole is the idiolect in which the non-referential contents are expressed. Its limit lies in that subtle distinction between thought and feeling, and denotation and emotion, in which every writer moves like an acrobat on a tightrope. In this sense, every expressive function in literary writing is situated between langue and parole according to the ‘intentional field’ being defined.

Referential function. This defines the time-space inside which the action takes place. Its permeability to parole is almost non-existent. And its unsettling effect lies precisely in this alienating objectivity. Hence the opening of Kafka’s The Trial ("K. must have done something wrong"), with its expressing certainty regarding the protagonist’s guilt, echoes like a knell, since K’s situation is related in such an impassive way.

Intentional function. The beginning of Musil’s The Man Without Qualities outlines a beautiful sunny morning in Vienna; however, to indicate such an obvious fact, Musil proceeds with a virtuosic description of the play of isobars and isotherms on the meridians and parallels of the whole globe. In, fact, the aim is to immediately stress the finiteness of the human condition in the universe. Thus the intentional function is an almost grotesque radicalization of the referential value inherent in the langue.

Desiderative function. "A Rose is a rose is a rose" stated Gertrude Stein. The desiderative function shifts the attention to the subject of langue, making it a personal symbolic code, innate in the protagonist’s unconscious. Simenon wrote a novel called The Man Who Watched Trains Go By: the writer’s intention of making a symbolic element a referential fact summing up the whole character of the protagonist is clear. The desiderative function allows the writer to break up the langue through a play of misunderstandings that undermine the referential value. The tacit consent takes on implications and counter-texts ranging from the charged expression of certain words to the distorted use of common terms. In Madame Bovary, the pharmacist Homais expresses himself in a language full of medical solecisms and emphatic terms belonging to the scientific langue of his times. At the end of the novel Flaubert describes Emma’s death by poisoning, from the abstract and ‘scientific’ viewpoint of Homais; the effect is harrowing for the conflict created between the bare method of observation and the human desolation in which Emma’s drama takes place. Another example of how the contrast between langue and parole can connote a desiderative function is the ending of Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrook: Mann describes Hanno’s death caused by typhus fever, almost by transcribing an article from a medical encyclopaedia.
Optative function. In her Family Lexicon, Natalia Ginzburg centres the story around an invention of the world coinciding with the invention of an idiolect. The family-microcosm is the place of linguistic sharing. Here, the sense of belonging to a langue also becomes the definition of a gradual alienation from reality. Another example of this paradoxical effect created through the gradual absorption of the langue system by parole can be found at the beginning of Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The identification between the child’s point of view, his seeing the world through onomatopes, as the only significant units of his referential code, achieves the effect of anticipating that confinement in the language which will form the consolation, and the tragedy, of Stephen Dedalus’s entire existence.

The translation procedure consists of keeping these ‘markers’ of meaning within the textual strategy.