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TSE  May 2003

TSE May 2003

Subject:

Re: Journey of the Magi

From:

Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Sun, 18 May 2003 10:48:16 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (82 lines)

Rita Proffitt wrote:
>
> Thanks for the info Peter and Nancy (& even Rick). Imagine a poem
> actually meaning what it says! What fun is there in that. I began to
> paraphrase the poem today - but found it difficult to do each line. I
> guess this is a usual assignment for students new to the study of
> poetry. rita

It is impossible to paraphrase simple statement of facts. Hence the
Rick's response. A white horse galloped away. What might be
paraphraseable is some unstated connection among the facts stated. This
possibility always exists, and is part of the basis for challenging some
forms of intentionalism. Consider a hypothetical text.

A exists.
B Exists

One paraphrases: A world characterized by the coexistence of A & B is a
world in which Q exists for the purpose of moderating the impact of B on
A. (We can call this paraphrase P.) This paraphrase can be said to
formulate the intention of the author of the original text.

[But now comes along our legendary man on the street muttering to
himself and all within hearing, "Why can't these poets just say what
they mean. If she means P why didn't she just say it?"]

So now we back up and consider another hypothetical text.

A exists.
B exists.
A world characterized by the coexistence of A & B is a world in which Q
exists for the purpose of moderating the impact of B on A.

Now the poem contains a statement of its intention. It says just what it
means. Or does it?

The first text contained two elements, and the the critic's paraphrase
(P) was a statement of the interaction of those two elements. But in the
second text we have _three_ elements. So the interaction of those three
elements (which involves a number of permutations and combinations)
generates a meaning which the commentator must catch up, somehow, in
his/her paraphrase. How does A (ignoring B) modify P? But that action
raises the question of how B affects the interaction of A & P, which
cannot be answered until we first inquire how does the modificatin of A
by B affect the ways in which A modifies or interacts with P.

And at this point, of course, enter Critic 2, who notes that the author
must, when she fiendishly added P to the text, have recognized the
confusions it would cause, so we must go back to the beginning, as it
were, and ask how A is modified by the persona's anticipation of the
tragic issues raised in the hypothetical (or ideal) reader's mind by the
collocation of P with A -- or perhaps that collocation is not relevant,
but the relevant collocation is that of P with A _as modified by B_
(with that modification proceeding with an awareness of the possibility
of P modifying B -- that is, the modification of A by B is not simply by
B but by B as modified by P).

And so on. When a text contains a statement of its own meaning the
resulting complications are undending.

:-)

Incidentally, the original text _could_ have been:

B exists.
A exists.

How do we explain the imporance of the order of events the poem
incorporates. Why, for example, do we get Eve's account of her creation
several books before we have Adam's account of _his_ creation? Must we
interpret the two accounts differently when we take this order into
account? Or was it simply a matter of narrative convenience, and does it
merely confuse our understanding of the epic to try to account for this
order? In one of Shakespeare's comedies there is an apparently pointless
semi-final scene. Is that a profound matter? Or was it simply that the
final scene involves a mass wedding and the actors had to have time to
change costumes? (I picked that up from coffee-shop chat with G.B.
Harrison at Michigan long ago.)

Carrol

Carrol

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