...I understand such books probably sound turribly stuffy & old-hat. Nothing new there for poets in those quotes. All ABC stuff (Coleridge's notion of participation, etc.).

What I'm appreciating, though, is the subtlety of analysis, & the way he identifies sources & trends in thought about these problems. You start to see the genealogy of certain familiar ways of defining things. Thus for example, Ron Silliman's focus on Jakobson's 6-sided figure for language (see today's post) : using Prickett's angle of focus, one might start by recognizing a certain techno-positivist character to Ron's application. As if language is this 6-sided "object" which one can manipulate & turn about in various ways : & as if this manipulability is language's main point of interest to us, as poets & readers. Where is this approach to language coming from? Curious that such a functionalist notion of language is used to defend a poet (Coolidge) who is defiantly "non-functional" in Ron's sense of the word (ie. "vulgar representation").

I think Charles Peirce, for one, would look askance at the 6-sided operational model. Why? Because in semiotics, signs overlap & form hierarchies. Which also parallels the notion of an earlier philologist, Wilhelm von Humboldt : that the basic meaning-unit of language is not the word, but the sentence. If the basic meaning-unit is the sentence - and if signs form hierarchies, overlaps & algorithms of meaning and effect and affect - what happens to the simple die-cast theory of signifier/signified, etc.? The signifier disappears into the signified, and what is signified becomes, in turn, a signifier, on another, sequential plane of meaning. The notion of "symbol" and symbolic meaning, in this sense, does not fit neatly into a 6-sided dissection ("we murder to dissect", as another poet wrote).

[p.s. on this idea of the symbolic sequences of signifier/ied/iers : as an example of just one among many types of this overlap phenomenon : see Mandelstam's essay "Conversation About Dante", where he describes Dante's chains of metaphors - "imagine an airplane in flight, launching another airplane off its wing, and then the 2nd launches a third..." (rough quote from memory). This whole question - of how multiple layers or branchings of meaning form & dissolve hierarchies of emphasis - an issue for logic & rhetoric - seems worth thinking about. When Mandelstam wrote that future critics would investigate the impulse behind the text, he was adumbrating the difficulty involved in tracking meaning, the author's elusive motivations. The complexity involved seems to explode any simple, atomistic notion of language as a cube with (6) definable applications.]

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