Elizabeth Bishop and the Watery Discourse: The Semiotic Chora at play

Amna Umer Cheema

  • Amna Umer Cheema University of the Punjab – Lahore, Pakistan
Keywords: Womanhood, Semiotic Chora, Plurality, Symbolic, Multiplicity


This paper theorizes the use of water imagery in Elizabeth Bishop’s selected postmodern poetry namely, “The Map”, “The Imaginary Iceberg” and “The Man-Moth”. Speaking in the language of tears, lake, bay, river, strait, sea and ocean, Bishop personifies water for culture and its language. It is on this basis that Bishop comes close to the French psychoanalyst and linguist, Julia Kristeva’s concept of the semiotic chora. Kristeva calls it a space of maternal discourse, where the fluid realm of mother’s body called chora celebrates the fluidity of semiotic desires and expresses them through the symbolic language of the world outside her body. Bishop revisits this bodily space, time and again,  to acquire subjectivity through the mother/child bond. Bishop’s poetic language celebrates this relationship between the semiotic (maternal) and symbolic (paternal) realm of language. The symbolic enables the semiotic to express itself, and the semiotic shatters the rigidity of the symbolic meanings through an ongoing process of signification. This reciprocity, through the semiotic chora, makes Bishop’s identity fluid and always in motion towards multiplicity. This plurality brings newness to Bishop’s poetry and engages the researcher with fresh perspectives of outer vision, inner perception, structural patterns and make her poetry eventful.