Al weighs in on the natural language question

To: (Francesca Forgach)
Date: Sun, 7 Nov 1999 09:56:50 -0500 (EST)
Precedence: bulk


G'morning on this (at least here) bright and sunny cold November Sunday.
Francesca wrote:

| It is just that language, as was mentioned before, is a medium no matter
| how it is taken.

If there's one theoretical lesson from this course that's a key to much
else in the course, it's this: language is (or is thought to be by moderns
and postmoderns both) a constructed medium; language is never not there
(in a poem); language is never transparent, much as some poets attempt to
create a transparency of it; it is never the thing it is describing or the
thought it is conveying; it is something unto itself (or an extra element
in the world) and it always, to some degree, more or less, obscures the
referent, the thing to which its words point (the thing or idea being

The key lesson of modern and postmodern poetry is that

                so much depends

is the medium for understanding (and being honest about conveying)

                the red wheel
                barrow etc.

Williams is sure to include a sign (to us) of his acceptance of the poem
as a piece of language--as *not* the thing itself but words about the
thing. That's why he is sure to include "so much depends / upon." It's a
signal that he knows langauge is not natural. He would not dare to present
the red wheelbarrow, rain water and white chickens as if they were in the
poem--as if they poem were them, not "about" them.

There are moments when--ignoring Williams and following Whitman
directly--the Beats felt that what they were producing was as natural as
the things of the world that they ecstatically cruised. "Howl" is, at many

                the red wheelbarrow
without         so much depends upon

--only far more expansive, extensive, inclusive and non-selective than
Williams's one thing, the focused-upon single image.


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