Then of course, in THE COCKTAIL PARTY, there Edward Chamberlayne, which is
exactly what he did.
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Nancy Gish 
  To: [log in to unmask] 
  Sent: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 11:56 AM
  Subject: Re: Literalism and Its Discontents, was 'Gerontion'

  Putting aside all mutual rebuttal, there are two key points in Carrol's message that are central to what I have been saying.  First, if Gerontion is not a person, it is difficult if not impossible to make the text work at all.  If the word is a verb or verbal, it makes no sense to try to imagine it as something/one that/who thinks and feels futile and remembers a life.  And this leads to the second point: no word can be shifted in isolation.  The minute one word shifts, all the words before and after are affected.  So to address the title, which is a name in a poem that opens with an "I" who speaks, is to make all the rest call for a totally changed way of approaching any of the language.  That is why I keep blethering on about syntax.

  This in no way disagrees with the claim of poetic transformations of words, about which Diana is clearly right.  But they occur in a whole text and they follow some known codes even when seemingly not--only the contrast to the usual code allows any recognition of a change or altered meaning.  It is only because we know the conventionally coded meaning of "etcetera" that we can slot it into the changed position and only because it has a form that can fit a noun.

  >>> DIana Manister <[log in to unmask]> 2/23/2010 2:23 PM >>>
  Dear Carrol,

  Marcia asked you the question as a way of mocking

  Sent from my iPod

  On Feb 23, 2010, at 1:52 PM, Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

  > That is a very profound and searching critqiue: the non-literal is
  > different from the literal, but to ask what the literal is is "silly."
  > You were wandering on abut Derrida some time ago but apparently you  
  > were
  > just spoofing us. I is precisely the difficulties of the _literal_
  > (which exists only in quoted texts) that was the point of departure  
  > for
  > that "radi al uncertainy" you bloviated on. Now the very first time  
  > that
  > someone seriously approaches a text in that "postmodern" fashion,
  > recognizing the radical uncertainty of the text (as contrasted to the
  > metaphysics of presence in oridnary speech) you retreat the most naive
  > and silly of all the complaints abut "postmodernism" -- it's SILLY.
  > A text (written rather than spontaneously spoken) is _encoded_ and has
  > to be decoded by the reader. (See any of the studies in semiotics
  > published in the lat 60 years and you will find that matter  
  > discussed at
  > some length.) Literal cannot mean anything else that what is _thee_ on
  > the page, and what is on the page is a cdoe which is meaningless until
  > painfully decoded. That this process is not automatic is shown, for
  > example, by the phenomenon of dyslexia. Most dyslexics have a good
  > comand of English; they can follow complex oral staatements and they  
  > can
  > formulate complex arguments in flexible and precise Enlish, but they
  > cannot decode those inscrutable marks on the page. You recently  
  > yourself
  > sufferered from a tmporary attack of dyslexia when you consturd _tion_
  > as _ing_, and have been digging a deeper and deeper hole for yurself  
  > as
  > you stubbornly try to defend this error in decoding the literal.
  > (Incidentally, the radical uncertainty that Derrida focuses on has
  > nothing whatever to do with quantum mechanics, which is why the phrase
  > is in scare quotes above. That uncertanty was one of the discoveries  
  > of
  > modernism, not postmodernism. And of course the really serious
  > uncertainty is the subect of the opening line of the oldest complete
  > document we possess, neither modern nor postmodern, the Iliad which is
  > all about what are sometimes now called "unintended consequences,"  
  > i.e.
  > the toatl inability of humans then and now to know what _all_ the
  > consequences of any act will be, however simple that act.)
  > "Gerontion" on the page has no meaning whatever -- literally it is
  > unintelligible, and in gaily disregarding that and pursuing the
  > figurative meanings of a non-existen literal meaning you show yourself
  > utterly blind to all the tough issues of the hermeneutic circel.
  > So let's rehearse. You cannot begin to speculate on the non-literal
  > meaning of a word until you have (at least provisonally) construed the
  > inconstruable, the word's _literal_ 'meaning,' that is, until you have
  > somehow decoded thos strange marks on the page. For example, I'm a bit
  > confused aboaut the lemon juice your refer to in the first line of  
  > your
  > post. It makes little s ense to say that the literal was not lemon
  > juice. Perhaps another example hypothetically contrasting the quoted
  > from the unquoted will help here. (You have to remember that Derrida
  > analyzed _some_ spoken language as "written," that is, as text.
  > Suppose you were to hear someone in an auditroum or perhaps off to one
  > side in a park singing one of the old Civil-Rights/Union songs -- say
  > the one with the puzzling lines (when quoted in a text) "Like a tree
  > that's standing by the river / We shall not be moved." It's really a
  > pretty dumb song WHEN QUOTED, AS TEXT -- quoted either on the page  
  > or by
  > the group singing it in the park. It not only is pretty banal and
  > unintesting but it is nearly uninntelligible. To make sense of it we  
  > are
  > thrown back in the hermeneutic circle of understanding the part before
  > we understand it so we can understand the whole so then we can
  > understand the part which we understood before without understanding  
  > it.
  > But now let's (in our imagination) move to a location/time when the
  > words were not quoted (even though they were not new but merely  
  > recited
  > an older song they were still not text, not quoted) but were mouthed  
  > in
  > the fac3 of the fire hoses and the police clubs and dogs by those who
  > were, albeit stubbornly, moving, being moved, but continuing to sing  
  > "we
  > shal not be moved," like a tree. Now the words are NEITHER litral nor
  > metaphorical. There is nothing to construe, no 'literal' and
  > 'non-literal" "meanings" to link together someohow, but an idividble
  > unity of people, firehoses, police dogs, clubs, excited radio  
  > reporters,
  > photogrpahers, water running down the gutters, bleeding foreheads. . .
  > No text. Nothing quoted.
  > Andthereareincidentalllynospacesbetweentheordsforspacesexistonlyintextnotinspeech.
  > I guess you may not have realized that spaces were a code and like any
  > code meaningless until the code is broken as it were.
  > The genre of the word "Gerontion" is a title, and titles are empty
  > until                                    completed by the text of  
  > which
  > ther are the title. (What is the 'literal' meaning of "his" in the
  > title, "To His Coy Mistress"?) What is the literal meaning of  
  > "Paradise
  > Regained" when the story ends with the hero merely returning  
  > unobserved
  > to his mother's house. I inquired some weeks ago if anyone cudl link  
  > the
  > varus pasages in 4Q to the instruments in a qurtet. Is it a violin,
  > viola, or cello that sounds in theopening lines of Burnt Norton or  
  > is it
  > some combination of two or all three of the instruments? No one
  > responded: that is, none of us kows the literal meaning of the title
  > under which the four poems were pbulished. And I've slipped into your
  > vocabulary here, for obviously the printed marks (nine of them
  > altogether including the spaces on both sides) don't refer to any
  > instruments but to the quoted word "quartet." I believe Northrop Frye
  > called this level, the level in which we have departed from the  
  > literal
  > and are focusing on the sign theliteral refers to, as the historical
  > level. So none of us is very sure abut eithr the literal or the
  > historical meaning of this title, and probably before we start talking
  > about the symbolic meaning of the phrase we should be a bit more  
  > certain
  > aboaut those 'lower' levels.
  > I would suppose the historical meaning of "Gerontion" (looking back on
  > it from a prelinary 'reading' of the rest of the pome) has to be a
  > person rather than some unkown speaker Geronting whatever that might  
  > be.
  > The text retains its radical undecidability but at least we have a
  > provisonal basis for talking about it with each other. If we start  
  > with
  > neither the literal nor the historical meaning and plunge into some
  > alleged symbolic meanign we are poor little sheep who have lost our  
  > way.
  > Nothing connects. And while it is true that we will never have more  
  > than
  > a provisional and uncertain understanding of the (historical and
  > symbolic) meanings of the whole, we really can't talk abut the
  > (historical) meaning of any one word, including the title) except by
  > referring back to that (provisioal and undecidable) symbolic meaning  
  > of
  > the whole. And unless we wish to launch into complete originality  
  > (which
  > Eliot notes would be hpelessly unitelligible), we need to start with
  > somethning fairly simple (unlie the quite unimple literal meaning and
  > the onl slightly less complex than the historical meaning) -- which  
  > wuld
  > seem to be an old frustrated man remembering his many failures to act.
  > That's pretty simple, and quite unsatisfactory as an end point of our
  > discussion, but it does enable discussion, which any attempt to move
  > from the literal to the symbolic of the title word in isoaltion
  > frustrates.
  > And of course this is what Nancy has been trying to hammer into closed
  > ears -- we need a place to start, and playing around with the
  > unintelligible literal meaning of the title by itself frustrates even
  > beginning to talk abut the poem.
  > And now you should answer Marcia's quetion: "The chair's leg.  A
  > metaphorical usage, don't you think?"
  > Again, a failure to grant the complexity of the literal and historical
  > meanings can frustrate discuusion. If we focus on the historical  
  > meaning
  > of "chair" by itself we cannot tell whether we are referring to an
  > article of furniture or the Vice President of the United States  
  > while he
  > ispresiding over the Senate. If that is the historical meaning here,
  > then, I guess, Marcia is wrong and "leg" is quite non-metaphorical. So
  > before we deicde the "literal" or "non-litereral" status of leg we do
  > need to decode "chair," which taken by itslef we could not do. (Note,
  > there is no problem in speech, with its metaphysics of presence: we  
  > are
  > all standing in a room togeher and oneof us points to the chair and
  > notes that the  chiar'sleg is scratched. No problem with the Vice
  > President here.) I'll stop here because I can't quite figure out even
  > the correct question to ask of "leg." But before say8ing it's all
  > simple, I really think you shouldanswer Marcia's question.
  > Carrolu
  > P.S. I advixe against anyone trying to show familarity with Derrida or
  > decosntruction on the basis of my remarks, since I haven't really done
  > the homework to cosntru "metaphysics of presence," "radical
  > undecidabilty," "qutation," and "text," which are all technical  
  > terms I
  > haven't myself fully mastered at all.
  > DIana Manister wrote:
  >> Carrol,
  >> Granted that "literal" was not le mot juste for what I was trying to
  >> say, but your explication is silly. Being literal does not mean
  >> focussing on the letters in a word. A literal meaning is simply
  >> different from a metaphorical or symbolic meaning.
  >> Diana
  >> Sent from my iPod
  >> On Feb 22, 2010, at 7:15 PM, Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
  >>> Diana Manister wrote:
  >>>> Dear Nancy,
  >>>> I think it's counterproductive to be strictly literal about  
  >>>> meanings
  >>>> in poetry.
  >>> Probably not possible. And if one wants to try to be literal, the
  >>> place
  >>> to start is with "literal," which if understood literally means
  >>> focusingon the letters, their sounds, the progression of those  
  >>> sounds,
  >>> etc etc. It would be the equivalent of geting so close to Picaso's
  >>> Gurnica that all the lines and shapes disappeared and all one was
  >>> examing were the brush strokes. As soon as you go by that 'level,'
  >>> youcan no longer be literal, for words literally focused on are
  >>> literally unitelligible. Look at "strokes" above. Does it refer to
  >>> strokes of an oar, a medical condition, parts of love-making, parts
  >>> of a
  >>> lashing abut the fleet in the Royal Navy of the early 19th-c,
  >>> instances
  >>> (as in "strokes of luck"), a misprint for "sokes" as in "stoes the
  >>> fireplace") or for "spokes" (as in a wheel), and so forth. (These  
  >>> are
  >>> the kinds of difficulties, incidentally, that those who cry for a
  >>> "literal" interpretation of the Constituion purposely ignore, for to
  >>> take them into consideration is to show their hypocrisy.) To escape
  >>> the
  >>> trap of literalism means putting the letters, and thus the word, in
  >>> some
  >>> context, that is to identify the genre of the sentence, or larger
  >>> unit,
  >>> in which the word appears. (This is one version of what is called  
  >>> the
  >>> hermeneutic circle: one must understand the whole to understand the
  >>> parts but the whole can only be understood by understandin the
  >>> words. It
  >>> can be either a vicious or benevolent circle. And at that point it
  >>> really becomes complicated.)
  >>> Carrol