plays a primary role in the creation of the universe.  For Plato, “it is the receptacle, and in a manner the nurse, of all generation” (Timaeus, Tr. B. Jowett, 49 b).  In the beginning, holding the four elements inside, chora experienced an imbalance of power and “was never in any part in a state of equipoise, but swaying unevenly hither and thither, was shaken by them [fire and water and earth and air] and by its motion shook them, and the elements when moved were separated and carried continually some one way, some another. . . .  The elements were then shaken by the receiving vessel [chora], which, moving like a winnowing machine, scattered far away from one another the elements most unlike, and forced the most similar elements into close contact” (52 e, 53 a).  In this way the four elements were given distinct places, but they were “all without reason and measure.  But when the world began to get into order, fire and water and earth and air did indeed show faint traces of themselves, but were altogether in such a condition as one may expect to find wherever God is absent” (53 b).  The demiurge brings order into this chaos.  The un co-ordinated movements are undirected and erratic.  They need rhythm and regularity. 

Julia Kristeva refers to the motility of Plato’s chora, which is not yet ordered because of the absence of nous.  She sees a definite relationship between this chora and language.  Referring to the qualities of the chora’s kinetic rhythm, Kristeva says the chora is a “modality of significance in which the linguistic sign is not yet articulated as the absence of an object and as the distinction between real and symbolic” (Kristeva, 1974, 1984: 26).  Thus she identifies chora as the process of signification, the space between the sign and the signified, and stresses that chora is “an essentially mobile and extremely provisional articulation constituted by movements and their ephemeral stases” (25).  John Sutherland, interviewing Kristeva, explains, “Le semiotique is the idea that speech works as much through sub-verbal codes as by what is actually said.  The real work of signification is done in the ‘cleavage between words and meanings’” (Sutherland, 2006).  Kristeva speaks of the sign as an absence of an object.  A sign points away from itself.  It points to the object.  The sign is the absence of an object. 

Chora, then, is space.  Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino calls this space “language in eidos.”  “The ‘space’ where the eidos that is the idea, that is the intellectual content, that is the pattern intelligible and always the same (49), has union with the eidos that is the form, that is the outlining pattern that meets the eye, that is the imitation of the pattern, generated and visible (Timaeus 49)”  (St. Thomasino, 2008, October 13). 

Kristeva characterizes the chora as having spontaneous motion.  In her book, Revolution in Poetic Language, she mentions several French modern poets, like Stéphane Mallarmé, who were the originators of a revolution in poetic language.  Their revolution was organic. 

  Kristeva is treating of poets who were outside the mainstream and who were in some cases even mad, and she discerns in their utterances an index, a rhythm, characteristics also present in the utterances of holy men.  (Which refers us to Plato’s Apology, 22 c, to “seers and prophets” (Tr. H. Tredennick) and to the entire Ion, which contains a fuller statement on the matter.  The Latin, vates, was both a poet and a diviner, a bard and a seer.)  If we examine the history of poetry from Homer to Virgil, to Dante to T. S. Eliot, we would see an evolution in consciousness and that evolution is brought into being by its own motility.  It has its own potential for spontaneous motion, spontaneous action, within itself.  You can’t control it.  It sputters out language, so that it causes language to change, causes semantic changes, semantic leaps.  Produces metaphor.  It increases language.  It happens in sputters and spurts.  Then there’s a paradigm shift, and most importantly for us, a poetic language shift, a shift in the poetic elements such that we need to rediscover them and to rediscover their position in the poetic line.  Poetry is the barometer of change.  If you want to see change, you look to poetry first.  The question for poetics today is however did the ungrammatical come to seem poetic?  There you’ll find a shift in the poetical, in the poetical elements, a paradigm shift.  We must rediscover, relearn, rethink the poetical.  It is in the poetry, it is not in the defenses written for the poetry—don’t make of one a subterfuge for the other. (St. Thomasino, 2008, October 15)

Kristeva uses maternal language when discussing this chora.  She speaks of its motility, compares it to contractions.  For her, chora is at once the maternal part of giving birth and the birth itself.  (Which refers us to Plato and to the maieutic method, where the philosopher is a midwife, helping the student give birth to latent knowledge, knowledge lost during the trauma of birth.)  This receptacle, this “space,” this chora.

Excerpt from Mary Ann Sullivan's dissertation:
"Digital Poetry and the Greek Notion of Nous"

Written under the intellectual guidance of Adjunct Professor Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino and within the ken of Professor Maggie Moore-West, Director, and Professors Allan Dibiase and James Lacey of the Doctor of Arts Program at Franklin Pierce University

Music: "In the Beginning"
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Published November 28, 2008
Copyright © 2008 Mary Ann Sullivan