Questions for poems from a language theorist in 1968
One of my summer projects this year is to, well, I guess “reboot” is the closest word for it. I’m going back to the books that are way back in my reading history, those—for me—foundational texts. I’m wondering what I think of them now.
The one I’m currently reading is titled The Labyrinth of Language, written by Max Black. It was published in 1968 in the Britannica Perspective series. It’s an overview of language theory at the time.
Here’s something about poetry I find rather interesting:
“. . . to try to explain how a poet manages to display or exhibit a ‘meaning’ without making a literal truth-claim about that meaning—how [the poet] manages to ‘bracket’ the truth-claim in the interest of some more subtle, less explicit, ‘statement.’ This is perhaps the hardest unsolved problem in poetics.
Further complications would be introduced by the necessity of distinguishing within each dimension, . . . between the explicit and the implicit. And running athwart this already sufficiently complex scheme of analysis there is the distinction, constantly to be borne in mind, between what the words mean (conventionally express, conventionally evoke) and what the speaker means (expresses, evokes) by means of those words. . . .”
And now, a half quote, half paraphrase:
Questions for poems:
1.What does the explicit utterance “say” and in what modes of “saying”?
2.What does the same utterance “express”?
3.What kind of influence does it bring to bear upon the reader?
4.How much of all this is explicit, and how much, and in what ways, are these effects to be counted as merely suggested or implied?
5.How much is intended, how much merely revealed, without the speaker’s consent?
6.How far does all this come about as a matter of standard linguistic convention?
7.How much results from the distinctive contributions made by the speaker in the given context and setting?
What does the explicit utterance say, and in what modes of saying. I like the construction of that question. I think I’m going to try that one out next time I’m wanting to do that sort of thing with a poem. What does the same utterance express. Indeed.
So I’m almost done with this book. I wonder what’s next.