[text under revision coming up soon]
2.1. Origins: genotext & phenotext (Julia Kristeva: 1969, 1974)
There are no simple concepts. In any concept there are usually bits or components that come from other concepts, which correspond to other problems and presupposed other planes. (Deleuze and Guattari 1994, 18)
Julia Kristeva: Séméiôtiké: recherches pour une sémanalyse, Paris: Edition du Seuil, 1969. (English translation: Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. Oxford: Blackwell, 1980.)
Julia Kristeva [Révolution du langage poétique, 1974]
Basically, Kristeva differentiates two levels, two layers on a text: the phenotext that we have in front of us (notated through universal signs and symbols), and the genotext – a non linguistic, process driven field of drive energies (from the unconscious) – that precedes and originates the phenotext.
Phenotext – Genotext (see slide)
The genotext has following characteristics:
it is based on bodily drives;
it is a vehicle for drive energies;
it is a non linguistic, process driven field of drive energies from the unconscious; and
it displays an a-significant background of language.
This text is the frame-joint, the articulation between the pure bodily and the linguistic levels of communication. The genotext must be disclosed and exposed, and it becomes perceptible through the phenotext.
[Kristeva:] — What I call Genotext includes all the semiotic processes: drives, distribution of drives and their ways of organising the body, the ecological and societal system that surrounds the organism, but also the emergence of the symbolic, the appearance of object and subject, the constitution of nuclear meanings, etc. The Genotext also gives shape to the fundaments of communicative language, what we call Phenotext. (Kristeva 1978, 95)
2.2. Somatème (Barthes)
Roland Barthes first applied Kristeva’s terms to music in 1972, in his famous essay ‘The Grain of the Voice’. For Barthes, some singers only perform phenotext, understood as the cultural, the aesthetic, the stylistic; whereas other singers emphasize the genotext, i.e., the entire body. In Barthes’s view, when listening to a song, one should hear the lungs expand and contract, the heart beat, the muscles grow taut and relax, and so on. (cf. Tarasti 2002, 23)
Borrowing from Kristeva Barthes created the concepts of genosong and phenosong. Genosong refers to the physiological aspect of singing, the corporeal vocal technique that engages the whole body. Phenosong relies on the primacy of language, text and civilisation, the sublimation of the physical level to that of high culture. (Tarasti 2002, 169) Barthes associates genosong with Charles Panzèra and phenosong with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.
Three years later, on another famous essay, this time on Robert Schumann’s Kreisleriana, Barthes expanded his considerations on geno- and pheno-qualities of music performance inventing the concept of ‘somatheme’.
Somathemes are musical ‘figures’ that are ‘figures of the body’, whose texture forms musical ‘signifying’. Reflecting on, and playing himself Schumann’s Kreisleriana Barthes ‘identifies significant categories that differ from the linguistic in being corporeal’ (Hatten 2001).
Related to the motions and movements of the human body those figures convey corporeal meanings. These ‘meanings’ (particularly in extreme ritardandos, in frantic, forward-rushing rhythmic lines, or in syncopated pulses) relate to a body ‘which is about to speak’ (quasi parlando) without saying anything.
Barthes speculated that in the rhythmic quality of Rasch the Schumannian body starts to speak to us via its particular somathemes. (Tarasti 2002, 132)
For Barthes the somathemes require a not always successful metaphorical power and are linked to the constitution of images.
And in the constitution of images (always singular and individual, unconsciously produced by the receiver) lies a fundamental element in Schumann’s music—the episodic, fragmentary succession of short musical entities, what John Daverio (following Barthes) understood to be the imagistic essence of his music, which unfolds like, “the discontinuous succession of frames in a film.” (John Daverio, “Piano Works I”, pp. 71-71.
Finally, somathemes reveal the emergence of ‘desire’, the production of new agencies of musical signifying (forces, energy) that are situated both before and beyond linguistically determinable signification (analysis, harmony, ‘themes’, ‘cells’, ‘phrases’).
In fact, for Barthes: “There are two musics: one you listen to, one you play. They are two entirely different arts, each with its own history, sociology, aesthetics, erotics: the same composer can be minor when listened to, enormous when played—take Schumann.”(Barthes 1991, 261)
2.3. Uses and criticism
Eero Tarasti (Tarasti 2002)(quite GOOD!!)
Signs of Music. A Guide to Musical Semiotics
Oddly enough, few of the greatest semioticians have said anything about music as a sign. […] Not one word about music appears in the massive output of A.J. Greimas, nor in that of Yuri Lotman. In contrast, Roland Barthes had much to say about music (1975, 1977).
A competent pianist himself, Barthes’s essay on the “grain of the voice” remains a classic in studies of vocal expression. A little less quoted but still inspiring are Barthes’s ideas on corporeal meanings – “somathemes”, the smallest units of bodily expression – as they occur in Robert Schumann’s piano music. (Tarasti 2002, 4)
(…) the ryhthms of Romanticism were still bound to the motions and movements of the human body. Roland Barthes has shown how the syncopated pulses of Schumann’s piano music are based upon special somathemes. The body “speaks”, as it were, through such units. (Tarasti 2002, 41)
Add: however, Schumann’s body was not able to fully play the motions and movements he had in his body (!). From this conflict: tension and agitation of his music. This body wants to go beyond itself, it wishes to deterritorialize. (…)
Carolyn Abbate (Abbate 1996)
Does not directly refer to “somathemes”, but to what relates to the Genotext.
Barthes’ hearing is sensualized by his perception of what he elsewhere calls the “grain of the voice”, which he describes in one passage as “the body in the singing voice, in the writing hand, in the performing limb”, that is, something extra in music (the grain) conceived as a body vibrating with musical sound—a speaking source—that is not the body of some actual performer. In this he imagines the source of what I call “unsung voices”. (Abbate 1996, 13)
‘Schumann’s Melodramatic Afterlife’ (On Schumann’s short Melodramas, op. 106 and op. 122).
This sublimation of the spoken word into mute but expressive gesture
with musical underscoring occurs at the tableau-like moment of Else’s disrobing as the pianist plays “Reconaissance” [scene from Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Fräulein Else]. (Kok and Tunbridge 2011, 171)
[…] This scene elucidates Roland Barthe’s notion of the “somathemes”, or “figures of the body”, that characterize Schumann’s piano music. Else’s pose may be momentarily still, but it trembles with an inner intensity (“wonderful chills up and down my body”) conveyed through its musical underscoring. […]
Inviting a link to the theatrical tradition of melodrama, Barthes writes, “Schumann’s music goes much farther than the ear; it goes into the body, into the muscles by the beats of its rhythm, and somehow into the viscera by the voluptuous pleasure of its melos: as if on each occasion the piece was written only for one person, the one who plays it; the true Schumannian pianist—c’est moi.” (Kok and Tunbridge 2011, 172); (Barthes 1991, 295)
Daniel Chua (Chua 1999)
Absolute Music and the Construction of Meaning
Daniel Chua tries to position Barthes’ approach close to that of Herder (1800) and of Forkel’s atmospheric and ‘embodied’ reflections upon C.P.E. Bach’s cembalo works. Without mentioning the substratum of Roland Barthes’ concepts, Chua remains on the surface, on a reductive understanding of direct ‘corporeity’, something that Barthes did not mean.
Robert S. Hatten
Robert S. Hatten, reflecting on musical gesture (and regretting Roland Barthes’ “lack of music theoretical training”), dedicates many thoughts to his texts on music.
Hatten did not take into account the impact of the concepts of genotext and phenotext in Barthes. Genotext and phenotext are not in opposition, they exist simultaneously, one cannot exist without the other.
Nonetheless, Hatten’s reading of Barthes is very helpful, making clear, for example, that Barthes ‘considers music as “a field of signifying and not a system of signs”’. Instead of ‘semiotics’ (“an order of articulated signs each of which has a meaning”) Hatten reads in Barthes an apology of ‘semantics’ (Benveniste) [“an order of discourse no unit of which signifies in itself, although the ensemble is given a capacity of signifying”(Barthes 1991, 311)].
Hatten states that “Barthes does not deny that a semiology would be capable of treating the ‘system of notes, scales, tones, chords, and rhythms,’ but rather that what he finds most meaningful in Schumann goes beyond” [all that).
[Hatten adds something to our scheme on kristeva—barthes:
field of signifying / system of signs]