You're right: they do--notably the "strict constructionists" on the
Supreme Court. But by the theory you have been discussing, they are
beside the point; it is language, not the author alone, that cannot be
fixed. And as you pointed out, Eliot says that in many ways. In that
sense, it is not in his gaps that Eliot is a brilliant writer but in the
effects he does produce by what he writes, however he came to the words.
He need not have individually decided on every word at all; whole lines
and phrases could have come to him without deliberation. He would
choose whether to keep them or not, no doubt, but even he might not be
conscious of every possible nuance or evocation. In fact, no one could,
give the nature of language as slipping.
One really cannot have it both ways--language as fixed and language as
unfixed. You've been arguing the former.
Nancy, members of this listsrv do not always look kindly on gaps between
intended and received meaning(s), and anyone who reads the Letters to
the Editor in the Sunday Book Review will come across arguments about
reviewers' word choices. Writers are generally held responsible for
every word to which they attach their names, semantic slippage
notwithstanding. One aspect of Eliot's genius it seems to me is his
sensitivity to hs words' nuances, connotations and history. To the
extent that a writer is not, his wordsmith abilities are less than
From: Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To: "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Word Choice Re: a Jeremiah sighting?
Date: Tue, 10 Jul 2007 13:02:15 -0400
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.
>>> Diana Manister <[log in to unmask]> 07/10/07 1:28 PM >>>