28 mar. 2007

All aspects of language are relational in the same way that aspect in verbal tense is. (As David S. suggests to me in an email this morning.) Taking Jakobson's six dimensions of communication as a model, there is the relation of the speaker to all the other five dimensions, the relation of the addressee to the speaker and all the other linguistic functions. The poetic function is not just the focus on the "message" in its phonological dimension, but the self-conscious attention to all six communicative functions.

For example, the channel of communication, the "phatic" dimension in RJ's jargon (gotta love that word!), might seem like one of the least promising from a poetic point of view. But who more than poets are attuned to to the "grain de la voix" or the quality of paper a text is printed on? Even the pneumatique at the bank's drive-up window is charged with poetic resonance.

Attention to code, to the language as code, is a given. Lyric poetry focuses intense interest on the addressee, so that's a given as well. And lyric subjectivity, the definition of the speaker's self, is in fact the main subject matter of modern and contemporary poetry.

Where poetry seems the nakedest if not the thinnest is in context, or the "referential" function in Jakobson's terms. That is, poetry doesn't seem to be about anything. "Subject-matter" is minimal, in relation to the other five elements. This is because attention is diverted to the other five elements with great intensity, so that all aspects of communication are intensified, but at the expense of what normal people call "communication."


Despite this, I'm interested in a poem's "referential field," that is, in what gets mentioned and what is left out. For example, imagine a novel in which none of the characters are depicted as eating anything. Don Quixote has great troubles because he wants to live within a referential field, defined by certain chivalric romance novels, in which certain bodily functions are never mentioned. It bothers me in Henry James novels when the narrator wants to present a certain character as highly intelligent or sensitive, but never puts in an idea or observation of the character.

What would a theory of poetic reference look like? One way to look at it would be to compile a lexicon for a given poet. The lexicon would basically describe a referential circumference--not only the nouns but also the verbs and adjectives, even the prepositions and adverbs. Really what would be interesting is the limitation of the lexicon, that is, the words that do not appear. A large number of words would hold less interest, because there would be no exclusions: the referential horizon would be too large to be meaningful.

So maybe poetry does in fact focus attention on referentiality, but in a peculiar way, through a pattern of exclusions.

1 comentario:

Henry Gould dijo...

You could say that poetry is about the problem of reference the way mathematics is about the problem of numbers.

Poetry can refer to anything - but it refers to things only in reference to itself.

In other words, poetry never just "refers" to anything. Poetry's essential activity is to say : "Watch HOW I refer to this thing. Manner is description."