Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"Linguistics and Poetics"

“Linguisitics and Poetics”
Nicolas Ruwet

The object of linguistic theory will never completely coincide with that of literary study. There may be some overlap, but it’s a mistake to take linguistic structuralism – at this point, an obsolete fad – as the foundation of literary studies. The emphasis on linguistics can even be harmful because it leads us to focus on the aspects of a text that we can discuss with scientific rigor and precision, rather than the less tangible aspects.

Specifically, linguistic theory can never explain to us why a line is beautiful. It might suggest, as with the quote from Racine, “Le jour n’est pas plus pur que le fond de mon cœur,” that part of the appeal lies in a certain ratio of syllables, but the source of its beauty really escapes us.

Despite the inadequacies of linguistic theory, it was the linguist Jakobson, who articulated the first theory of the difference between poetic language and other forms. Namely, “poetic language projects relationships of equivalence which usually occur on the paradigmatic axis (the axis of selections or substitutions) along the syntagmatic axis (the axis of combinations or concatenations)” (301).

This is undermined by the fact that
a) “literary prose” and “prosaic versification” blue the boundaries, leaving the aesthetic dimension unclear.
b) The model of 2 axes is old structuralism, and thus obsolete
c) Analysis of discourse proves that all sorts of texts – conversations, newspaper articles, etc – can be described in these terms.
d) We don’t know which equivalences are pertinent and lack the objective procedures to figure that out.

We can solved the way L-S and Jakobson did, by working out equivalences through grammatical structure, but this ignores the fact that certain grammatical structures are considered mandatory at some times and optional at others.

And here is where I say fuck it in my notes. I sincerely doubt we need to understand how to analyze a sonnet by Baudelaire in exams. However, as the discussion is more helpful:


Moraze: The project is a generalized poetics, which, if applied to the work of a given author, would make it possible to produce all of the work of the author. Is skeptical, thinking generalized aesthetic would simply give generalized logic.
Caws: Generative poetics makes the argument that language, in a creative sense, is posterior to the subject.

Ruwet: generative poetics is like the effort to create synthetic music; it’s mostly terrible, but in its inadequacy, we learn how far we are from understanding music/poetics.

Macksey: while sensitive to Ruwet’s caveat’s about the relation between linguistics and literary theory, it seems worth noting that some critics, like Benjamin, have anticipated certain structuralist theories (like Chomsky).

Todorov: literature as a system is yet to be described, but will probably be closer to other forms of discourse than linguistics.

Barthes: effort to specify relationship between semiotics and linguistics. Can’t simply try to derive something useful for literary analysis from linguistics as is; must sometimes demand a linguistics that hasn’t been invented.