One can distinguish between analyzing what is there--and its effect--and
assuming that everything was put there intentionally and with a
specific, recoverable purpose. These are distinct acts of reading and
writing. Given your own point about the gap between signifier and
signified, it would not even be possible to simply encode a particular
exact meaning or to recover it: the language is always "slipping" to
use Eliot's word.
So on that assumption, we cannot know what words are random and what
words are carefully considered, and even if we could, we still cannot
know exactly what the poet intended. New Critics made a great fuss
against the "intentional fallacy" and assumed we have, in fact, only the
text to examine, a "verbal icon." Close reading was a way of examining
that verbal construct for its form and impact, not for whatever
conscious intent the author may of may not have had.
If words are random--perhaps simply heard as a rhythm first and used (as
Eliot claimed) or evoked by illness or "rhythmical grumbling (as Eliot
also claimed), they are still there. It is reading that must encounter
and deal with them in any case.
Carrol, in poetry workshops in which I participate every word in a poem
is evaluated for its effectiveness. Close line reading is not unusual in
literature classes or critical writing; New Criticism reinforced that
practice. Assuming that a proportion of a poet's word choices are random
would relieve poets and critics of their usual responsibility. How would
we know which words in a poem were thrown in thoughtlessly and which
were carefully considered? And if a critic failed to include certain
words in an heuristic circle couldn't the poet be blamed for choosing
his words carelessly, rather than the weakness of the critic's case?
>>> Diana Manister <[log in to unmask]> 07/10/07 12:45 PM >>>