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Monday, 5 February 2007

It May Not Say What It Says

After posting "It's How He Sees It" last month, I was surprised and delighted to receive an email sent by a friend from college days. The email - and another which followed soon after - developed an aspect of literary theory that I had touched on: the possibility that a work might possess content, even contradictory content, which the author did not knowingly include and of which he had no conscious knowledge. I was grateful to him referring me to an essay by Pierre Macherey, "The Text Says What It Does Not Say", which I have now read in lengthy extracts - and may even invest in the full text at some future point. For anyone who is interested in the subject (deconstruction of texts) I can recommend as an introduction a Literary Studies piece intended for Third Year Undergraduates. You will find it at
http://www2.plymouth.ac.uk/gateway_to_study/essaywriting/litera-2.htm (or click on the title of this post).
Thinking on these things - and the idea, outlined in the Lit Studies piece, that the "meaning" of a literary work resides in its incompleteness, its "gaps and silences" - I was reminded of the question attributed to Basho, the seventeenth century master of the Haiku: "Is there any good in saying everything?" An illustration I have seen given with the quotation, comes from the modern art of photography: "The poet makes the exposure, leaving the reader to develop it." I leave you to develop that thought, but as I do so I also leave you with (for what it may be worth!) my own light-hearted contribution to the debate.

The Poet

Quietly in his living room,
he'd write his poems
like a dead man
filling in the details
of dead people on a form.

And yet the poems laughed and sang;
his words would play the fool,
wear tatty jeans and swap their clothes
like children out of school.

Morose and unaware of how
they skittered round the room,
escaping from the forms he thought
secure as Alcatras,
he'd fit each word into its frame -
”Forms are,” he said, “the only way
to give words gravitas.”

He was a saintly Christian man
whose instincts were to bless,
how could he know his words would run
and be promiscuous?

"Experimental!" critics cried,
"The form, the form is all!
It's here and there and everywhere -
in one form or another.”

The people heard the words at play,
they heard them in the street,
"How perfectly absurd," they said,
to be so indiscreet!"

But when at last the word was out,
their thoughts, once cold, grew warm:
"How sad," they said,
"the poet's dead -
died filling in a form!"

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