Then of course, in THE COCKTAIL PARTY, there Edward Chamberlayne, which is
exactly what he did.
----- Original Message -----
From: [log in to unmask] href="mailto:[log in to unmask]">Nancy Gish
To: [log in to unmask] href="mailto:[log in to unmask]">[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