Monday, 3 May 2010

A response to Don Paterson's "The Empty Image"

Don Paterson's "The Empty Image: a new model of the poetic trope", available from his Ars Poetica page has more in it than I can comment upon or understand, but I'll mention a few points.

  • I don't think he's saying much that's new, but he doesn't claim to. I think he's saying that word-meanings create provisional context which in turn modifies word-meanings (and modifies reading strategy). The modification might be more than just a tweak: ground might become tenor, details might become symbolic, and v.v.. These feedback loops operate on several features, not just along the part-whole axis but also along transparent-opaque, sound-layout etc. Readers are likely to recontextualize as they read, delaying the processing of the raw material until the appropriate methods of processing become clearer.
  • "discredited lines of philosophical thought ... persist in the literary sphere long past their sell-by-date" - I've noticed that too.
  • "shouldn't talk about what the poem or an image means, so much as what meaning it generates" - I think that's the only way to do it. Within a certain group/context (e.g. of mainstream UK poets) there may be so much agreement about a poem's meaning and quality that one might, as a short-hand, say that the poem contains meaning, but give the text to a US avant-gardist and you'll get a surprise.
  • He says "My definition of overinterpretation is the avowal of the presence of effects ... discovered in your post-reading critical vivisection. I think these are to be strongly distrusted" but later says "We find ourselves attuned only to a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum, and whatever universe our senses conjure up for us is not the universe" - I re-read to compensate for my narrow tuning using telescopes, microscopes, (and Google, syllable-counting) etc, otherwise I'd miss too much. I need to re-read to catch up with some of my peers who don't have the blindspots that I have. Where does re-reading end and overinterpretation begin?
  • "Poets coin new metaphors that either reveal underlying mappings in existing conceptual metaphors, or - more often - they innovate new conceptual mappings" - I like this part of his essay, and the consequences.
  • "That dynamic is bidirectional; take 'the moon is a dinner plate'" - by chance a Judy Brown poem has "a thick white saucer like a worn-out moon, brittle from too much shining"!

2 related little stubs I've produced are

  • Attention, Agility and Poetic Effect - "Two issues relating to Attention are 1) what is being focussed on, and 2) the narrowness and intensity of the focus. Here I attempt to describe the effects of some poetic features. The up/down directions mentioned below pertain to the hierarchy formed by letters, words/sound, localized meaning, and general meaning. The in/out direction is relative to the text...."
  • Poetic Requirements - "To increase the poetic effect of a text, you can make the text more poetic, or you can make the reader adopt a more poetic approach. ... But of course there's more to it than having a text and a reader - the 2 need to get together under suitable conditions. In Acumen 54 (Jan 2006) Judy Gahagan wrote 'the once unique poetry habitat is a threatened one', a metaphor which can be extended. When a species' habitat shrinks, a few things are likely to happen ..."

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