Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Thursday, October 13, 2005

the non-denotative and the plenitude of language

Franklin reminds me, so, what is it you like about this poetry stuff? Why do you even care?

Sophomore year of college I took "Arts & Ideas in the 20th Century" and studied, most memorably among others, Stein and Duchamp. Loved them, still do. We read Stein's "Tender Buttons" of 1914. Here is the first of the Buttons.


A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.

There may be a denotative purport to this, but whatever it could be is obscured by the radical undermining of traditional syntax, the odd imagery -- what is a "hurt" color and why is it single? -- and the abstract language. "Not unordered in not resembling" sounds like a statement of purpose: Stein is deliberately writing non-denotatively, "not resembling," but not randomly, "not unordered." "The difference is spreading" -- echoes of Saussure's linguistics of the arbitrary nature of signs (words) that gain their meaning from context and social use and agreement; pre-echoes of deconstructionist philosophies of difference; and a momentary zing of excitement -- "the difference is spreading" sounding to me like that visionary ecstatic cliche of the Thanksgiving dinner table, "everything is delicious." Stein's tone, at least after "The Making of Americans," generally is pleased, pleasing, pleasuring, delightful, delighting in the associative powers of language as it flows unbounded from denotative charge.

Jack Spicer zings me similarly; he was a professional linguist who said, in a lecture on poetry, (this is a paraphrase from memory), "everybody speaks their own language," meaning, no two people's vocabularies are identical, and no two people's associations with any given word will be identical. Words in discourse bring with them all the associations that the reader and writer bring to them, with them; marry me, marry my family; words are similarly history-laden (that person's got some history), in many cases, baggage-laden. Spicer's non-denotative poetry brings this wittily to bear, usually in emotionally charged ways. I'll post something of his soon.
Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?