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POETRYETC  2002

POETRYETC 2002

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Subject:

Re: "Contains"

From:

KENT JOHNSON <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Poetryetc provides a venue for a dialogue relating to poetry and poetics <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 11 Mar 2002 13:56:08 -0600

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Holy cow, Chris, what a terrifically interesting post! One of those to
read more than once, that's for sure. More later, if I can get out
from under these mid-terms. I *do* think Alison's notion of poetry
as a kind of parole to "something else's" langue is richer in
implication than you seem to take it.

Kent
*
Chris said,

<snip>
 Meaning would *always* be "contained" in poems if one assumes
a Romantic
 notion of meaning, or even a later New Critical one; meaning would
*never*
 be "contained" in poems if one assumes a structuralist notion of
meaning in
 the sense of language being a system of differences with no
positive terms
 [...]
 Maybe both those senses are unsatisfactory [KJ]
 <snip>

 Yes. That's pretty much akin to the container v representation
distinction,
 I think. If that's not too reductive. And it's the fact of their being
 analogies (as with _all_ analogies) that makes them partial and
therefore
 unsatisfactory.

 <snip>
 meaning is constructed via complex negotiations of social and
cultural
 rules. [KJ]
 <snip>

 Yes. And the social-construction-of-meaning view moves meaning
_out_ of
 language, at least in any containerised sense. Which begs the
question of
 where *truth* or *reality*, meaning's gold standard for
correspondence
 theories, actually is. Peirce (coming out of pseudo Scotus) would
put it in
 the world. The other approach is to make it entirely the object of
 consensus, there being no there there, as it were. How to straddle
_that_
 gap?

 <snip>
 Maybe [...] it *is*, actually, more interesting to think of a poem's
 relationship to meaning in the sense of "holding back or
obstructing," [KJ]
 <snip>

 Yes again, to obstructing.

 And I'd distinguish between three sorts (unless I think of some
more).

 First there's the pitting of the (comparatively) fixed and 'closed' text
 against a changing language and a dynamic social understanding.
Another
 version of what I'd suggested earlier to Alison, that the 'openness'
of
 poetry requires moving _outside_ the text. Fish as what is caught
and
 valuable or interesting, which will alter over time.

 Obstruction makes things tricky for the fish. Or the reader (not just
 Stanley necessarily). Chomping through a boneless chunk of flesh
is much
 less interesting than extracting the bones as one goes. The risk of
an
 errant bone is important. Choking is good for you, provided it
doesn't
 happen. Just as the possibility of an unremoved, fatally poisonous
nerve
 presumably adds ontological piquancy to the flavour of puffer fish.
Slowing
 down or disrupting the ordinary acts of eating, reading or saying is
one
 feature of this sort of obstruction. Trust in oneself, the chef, the
poet,
 the language or the reader (and the risk of being let down) is
another.

 Where poetry isn't declarative (describing a state of affairs, as in
 narrative) or constative (representing a state of affairs, as in drama),
 where it's most distinctive, it's performative, I believe. Do writer and
 reader face one another across the divide (or the bridge) of the text
 carrying out acts which are (to use JL Austin's terms) equivalently
 *illocutionary* (trusting, loving, hating, promising, insisting and so
 forth) or *perlocutionary* (creating the presence of something
ceremonially)
 according to a proairetic encoded in the work? The terms are
ponderous, but
 this feels to me broadly correct: poetry as, in effect, sequences of
 instructions which lead the practitioner into impossible states.
Gertrude
 Stein rather precisely said that 'paragraphs are emotional _not
because they
 express an emotion_ but because they register _or limit_ an
emotion'
 (_emphasis_ mine) and gave an example - 'A dog which you have
never had
 before has sighed' - of something visibly like what I mean by
'proairetic',
 encoded into a sentence. She also spoke of how it used to be
possible to
 say, 'Ah moon' and the moon was there. Which is a good example
of what I
 mean by 'perlocutionary'.

 And, thirdly, there's obstruction not as a kind of guidance by the
text, a
 limiting or delimiting in Stein's sense, but as *unreadability*,
resistance
 to being read at all, so that what's important, what's being
delimited isn't
 either the saying or _in_ the saying but is the result of the
inadequacy of
 the saying (and the reading) and is (apophatically) what _isn't_
being said.
 And that, I think, is where I disagree with Alison's sense of poetry
as
 *parole* to something else's *langue*, which still seems to me a
distinction
 within a view of poetry as symbolic code, as though a Philippe
Starck chair
 (to change the artform) were a ludic resistance to over-earnest
*chairness*.

 What I have in mind is that interesting territory where language
shatters
 altogether.

 Which may be a good place to stop.

 Christopher Walker

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