scattershot notes on lyric and dna

September 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

Osip Mandelstam  described a poem as the Egyptian ship of the dead, where “all the needs of life have been stored, nothing has been forgotten in that ship.” A poem carries the condensed storehouse of language and the knowledge that language holds. A poem inherits and recombines rhythms, cadences, words, sometimes whole lines, from other poems, from a body of world poetry, and carries this knowledge into the future. Sometimes a poem arrives intact, sometimes we receive only a fragment, a slip of DNA preserved by chance in the sands.[1]

Poetry, poetic language, is often language at its most condensed and compressed: generative capabilities of ambiguity, polyvalency–syllables, rhythms, as well as meanings sparking or being catalysts off of one another. But the prevailing mode is sensual and generative, the semantic a shadow of the sound, epiphenomenal.

Kristeva’s concepts of the semiotic and symbolic modalities may be relevant here, as they find expression in genotext (‘vague traces of skipping reels of rhyme’, language as riverrun, the sensuality & materiality of the body) and phenotext (aboutness, clarity, the ‘pure phenotext’ of a mathematical proof, as described by Leon Roudiez). [2]

(I would include here some reference to Attridge’s work on Joyce, whose language he argues displays the very conditions of the possibility of meaning production: the workings laid bare. How the many attempts to see the ‘skeletal key’ of Finnegans Wake fail to hear its poetry: “the properties of language, its instability and shiftiness, its material patterns and coincidences, its intertextual slidings, its freedom from determining sources or goals, its independence from its referents, even its refusal to be bound by a single language system.” p.231 Peculiar Language. And: the pleasure in “writing’s proliferating energies” that we find in FW, various relations to “ecriture, genotext, signifiance, heteroglossia, dissemination, rhetoricity, performativity, scriptibilite.“p.236). 

But above all, the generative capacity of poetic language.


[1]  “Genomes change. Different versions of genes rise and fall in popularity driven often by the rise and fall of diseases. There is a regrettable human tendency to exaggerate stability, to believe in equilibrium. In fact the genome is a dynamic, changing scene…The genome that we decipher in this generation is but a snapshot of an ever-changing document. There is no definitive edition.” Ridley, p.146. Genome as draft.

[2] Rachel Blau DuPlessis:  “Thinking about language in my poetry, I imagine a line below which is inarticulate speech, aphasia, stammer and above which is at least moderate, habitual fluency, certainly grammaticalness, and the potential for apt, witty images, perceptive, telling and therefore guaranteed ‘poetic'” The Pink Guitar, p.144.

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