Date of Award

Spring 6-11-2022

Document Type

M.A. Essay

First Advisor

Ainsley Morse

Second Advisor

Robert St. Clair


This essay investigates the themes of life and death in Balzac’s novel, Le Colonel Chabert (1832), and Tynianov’s novella, Podporuchik Kizhe (1927). In these works, life and death are as much socio-political and legal constructs as they are organic or ontological states—that is, the chronological, biological beginning and ending of a “life.” In other words, life and death become conceptual spaces into which one may enter, or from which one may be excluded. Additionally, this essay asserts that while the approach taken in one text may to be a kind of conceptual inversion of the approach taken in the other, in fact, Balzac and Tynianov grapple with the same ontological question: what constitutes a human life? Using the theoretical concepts of the British psychoanalyst, Wilfred Bion, I address this question and identify additional ontological states of being that I call “non-life” and “non-death.” This essay, moreover, presents an interpretation of some of his core theoretical concepts: the alpha- and beta-elements, the alpha-function, and the container and contained paradigm. That is, I put forth a heuristics, a way of reading Balzac and Tynianov, informed by Bion’s thought.