Grievous Speech: Nathalie Stephens's Touch To Affliction and the City of Death


  • Tanis MacDonald Wilfrid Laurier University


Walter Benjamin, poetry, philosophy of violence, grief and mourning


Like all resonantly elegiac texts, Nathalie Stephens’s 2006 book Touch to Affliction does more than just locate or inscribe grief; it also challenges the historicized position of affect by dislocating the identity of the mourner, the City of Death through which the mourner roams, and the shifting identity of the mourner’s “lost beloved.” Stephens’s mourner politicizes the act of walking through the city: first, as a “dissonant body” that refuses gender norms, and second, as a stubborn physical presence of public mourning: that which is wrought by the nation, and that to which the nation can never fully respond. Alluding to philosophy about mid-twentieth-century violence, the narrator asks two resonant questions: “Where is the poet who will return language to the body?” and, more problematically, “Where is the body that is prepared to receive language?”

Comme tous les textes résolument élégiaques, le livre Touch to Affliction de Nathalie Stephens, publié en 2006, fait plus que simplement localiser ou inscrire le chagrin; il remet également en question la position historicisée de l’affect en disloquant l’identité de la personne en deuil, la Ville de la mort dont elle parcourt les rues, et l’identité fluctuante du « bien-aimé perdu ». La personne en deuil de Stephens politise l’acte de marcher dans la ville : en premier lieu, en tant que « corps dissonant » qui refuse les normes de genre, et en second lieu, en tant que présence physique obstinée du deuil public : celui qui est façonné par la nation et auquel la nation ne peut jamais répondre pleinement. Faisant allusion à la philosophie de la violence du milieu du 20e siècle, la narratrice pose deux questions retentissantes : « Où est le poète qui rendra le langage au corps? » et, question plus problématique : « Où est le corps qui est prêt à recevoir le langage? »


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Author Biography

Tanis MacDonald, Wilfrid Laurier University

Associate Professor

Department of English and Film Studies


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