#Mayakovsky... 'on a generation that squandered its poets)...

i feel/like a soviet factory
manufacturing happiness.
i don’t want/to be plucked
like a flower/after a the days work
i want the heart to be paid
its wage of love/at the specialists rate
i want the factory/committee
to put a lock on my lips
when the work is done
i want the pent to be equal to the bayonet
and i want stalin/to report in the name of the politburo
about the production of verse
as he does about pig iron and steeeeel
thus, and so it is/we’ve reached
the topmost level/up from the workers hovels
in the union of republics
the appreciation of verse/has exceeded the prewar level

Mayakovski – quoted in Jakobson (On a generation that squandered its poets…) in the fabulous Verbal Art, Verbal Sign, Verbal Time…

Though really if Jakobson and I were sitting drinking espresso in some small place in paris we’d be lamenting of the way the spectacle has generated a generation that squandered its intellectuals…

The poem is decapitalised…

On December 22, 1926 Trubetzkoy answered me with one of his most significant messages: […] The general outlines of the history of language, when one reflects upon them with a little attention and logic, never prove to be fortuitous. […] If Saussure did not dare to draw the logical conclusion from his own thesis that language is a system, this was due in large measure to the fact that such a conclusion would have contradicted the widely accepted notion of the history of language, and of history in general. For the only accepted sense of history is the notorious one of ‘progress’, that queer concept which as a consequence reduces 'sense’ to 'nonsense’.
—  From “Chapter 5: Speech Artefact” in Word, Sound, Image: The Life of the Tamil Text by Saskia Kersenboom. 
Any assumption of ineffable or untranslatable cognitive data would be a contradiction in terms. But in jest, in dreams, in magic, briefly, in what one would call everyday verbal mythology and in poetry above all, the grammatical categories carry a high semantic import. In these conditions, the question of translation becomes much more entangled and controversial.
—  Roman Jakobson, “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation”
Roman Jakobson and Claude Lévi-Strauss

“Linguistics and Poetics” (1960)

I am not a linguist, but linguistic theory has understandably had a huge impact on the critical study of literature.

Roman Jakobson, like Shklovsky, was interested in exploring the formal function of language on poetics. The question that he hoped to answer was what makes a verbal or written message a work of art. As a linguist, Jakobson built on the work of Saussure (this seems to be a recurring pattern here), expanding on and questioning some of Saussure’s basic notions about the arbitrariness of language and the linearity of the sign. Many of the poetic features that Jakobson notes apply more generally to semiotics, and thus have an application to the study of film and painting as well as language proper.

“The poetic function is not the sole function of verbal art, but only its dominant, determining function” (1264).

from “Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances” (1956)

In this short excerpt, under the heading “The Metaphoric and Metonymic Poles,” Jakobson lays out the two poles of how meaning is created: relations of similarity, or metaphor, and relations of contiguity, or metonymy. These are how we create value.

Jakobson noted the predominance of one or the other in various types of literature. In the Romantic and Symbolist poets, he noted the primacy of the metaphoric register. In Realist work, metonymy. Jackobson also noted that this oscillation of relations also occurs in other sign systems as well. In film for instance, the close-ups favoured by Griffith were of the metonymic register, while the montage in Chaplin and Eisenstein was more metaphoric. He coins these “filmic similes.”

This structural analysis based on linguistics can be a useful tool and give a critic or theorist a way to get a strong handle on a work.

Jakobson’s friend Claude Lévi-Strauss attempted to apply this same kind of Saussurean structuralism to cultural studies. In his famous book, Structural Anthropology, Lévi-Strauss looks at cultural phenomena as forms of communication, including myths.

I read Chapter XI of the book, “The Structural Study of Myth,” in which Lévi-Strauss investigates the role and function of myths. He compares the seeming arbitrariness of myth against the similarities of myths across cultures and regions. Thus, the link between linguistics and mythology is in how meaning is made in relations between myths.

For Lévi-Strauss, “myth is language” (209). He applies even more linguistic analysis to his exploration of myths, using the term mythemes to describe the discrete units of myths that he is comparing. Thus, myth is made up of the relations between this units. And, like Jakobson notes, these relations are both diachronic and synchronic.

Lévi-Strauss believed that while poetry could not be accurately translated, myth was that which survives the worst translation. The substance of myth is the relations between mythemes.

Lévi-Strauss is one of the first theorists here that I’m not quite convinced by. His theories are the least compelling to me, as his structuralist approach seems at times somewhat arbitrary and yet also too specific.

[Lacan] called upon the findings of structural linguistics in order to explain the complex relation between oedipal dynamics and language, using Freud’s (1920) famous example of the fort/da game and Roman Jakobson’s (1956/1971) phonology to illustrate the way in which the acquisition of language goes hand in hand with the process of primal repression.

…Therefore, when Freud’s grandson was able to say fort/da to symbolize his mother’s leaving and returning, … expressing joyfully, through words, his ability to control a loss, the child in this paradigmatic anecdote at the same time repressed the cause of his sadness, and his unconscious came into being.

From this moment on in development, the unconscious becomes the repository of all the phonematic traces related to subsequent experiences of loss or lack.

—  Joël Dor, the Clinical Lacan, the Paternal Function and Psychic Structures

Certainly, then, words like mama and dada wouldn’t necessarily stay the same, or even close to the same, in languages around the world and over tens of thousands of years. So what happened?

The answer lies with babies and how they start to talk. The pioneering linguist Roman Jakobson figured it out. If you’re a baby making a random sound, the easiest vowel is ah because you can make it without doing anything with your tongue or lips. Then, if you are going to vary things at all, the first impulse is to break up the stream of ahhh by closing your lips for a spell, especially since you’ve been doing that to nurse. Hence, mmmm, such that you get a string of mahs as you keep the sound going while breaking it up at intervals. […] Nichols has proposed that the reason a language like Yukaghir’s pronouns for I and you look so much like the mama/tata alternation—as well as why French has moi and toi and English once had me and thou—is because even as these languages have changed over time, the sounds of the words for I and you have been influenced by the way mama and tata differ. The m sound is used for what is closest—mama for Mommy and “me” for the self. The t sound—often learned just after m—is for what’s just one step removed from the closest: Daddy hovering just over there, which we can understand would feel like “you” rather than “(Mommy and) me.

Metaphoric and Metonymic Poles in Translations of Monk Saigyo

     I recently read Roman Jakobson’s “The Metaphoric and Metonymic Poles,” in which he elucidates through studies of aphasia the tendency of individuals and literary texts to tend primarily toward use of metonymy or metaphor. With this in mind I wish to question the approach to translation of poetry from classical Japanese into English. According to Jakobson’s theory, the poet as well as the genre of waka in that time would lean toward one of the two linguistic poles. At the same time, the translators have their own linguistic leanings in forming tropes which they may layer on top of the original or replace entirely.
      In one example, Saigyo’s poem reads:

kozo no shiori no
michi kaete
mada minukata no
hana o tazunen (“Awesome Nightfall” 139).

and is translated by Carter and LaFleur as follows, respectively:

The pathway I walked
when last year I made my way
into Yoshino–
I abandon now to visit
blossoms I have not yet seen (160).

Last year, Yoshino,
I walked away bending branches
to point me to blossoms–
which now are everywhere, and I can
go where I’ve never been before (139).

     A stronger tendency toward metaphor is exhibited in LaFleur’s translation. Through use of personification the branches point the speaker to blossoms, contrasted with Carter’s image of abandoning a previously used pathway. LaFleur’s choice is more overtly metaphoric but to be fair, abandoning a pathway can also be understood to function via substitution as one action for another, or an approach to life, and in those cases would be metaphoric, but the capacity for a metonymic reading is also present, and will perhaps be more prominent with a more literal reading–the pathway may stand for the whole of various paths the speaker would use, etc. By comparison then, to bend branches which complete the act of pointing is a very metaphoric image. Due to the context branches are more difficult to read synecdochally as standing for the tree because the branches themselves are doing the pointing. The verb “point” has much more figurative weight than the noun “branches.”
     In both translations, “blossoms” lean toward metonymic extension. They may be understood to synecdochally represent the trees, the scenery, and nature as a whole. However, in Carter’s translation there is a definite metonymic weight to blossoms in his syntax. The speaker visits “blossoms not yet seen,” or rather the blossoms are inseparable from the figure of exploration, self-improvement, broadening of horizons. The image is one of contiguity. With LaFleur’s construction, blossoms are more separated from the subject’s movement. They are everywhere, but also, the speaker can move independently of them, unlike the purpose of visiting them suggested in Carter’s choice. In LaFleur, since the blossoms are syntactically connected with the metaphoric verb “points,” and they are grammatically separated from exploration, the metonymic pull of the image is lessened in comparison with Carter’s interpretation. Due to the significant variation in metonymy and metaphor, with LaFleur tending more toward metaphor (which may appeal and seem more natural to a modern reader of poetry in English,) an analysis of Saigyo’s poetry along these lines may open up a way to rethink translation and the accuracy of parallel images at their foundation.

The pun, or […] paronomasia, reigns over poetic art, and whether its rule is absolute or limited, poetry by definition is untranslatable. Only creative transposition is possible: either intralingual transposition–from one poetic shape into another, or interlingual transposition–from one language into another, or finally intersemiotic transposition–from one system of signs into another, e.g., from verbal art into music, dance cinema, or painting.
—  Roman Jakobson, “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation”
The idea of the liberation of energy, the problem of the time dimension, and the idea that movement at the speed of light may actually be a reverse movement in time–all these things fascinated Mayakovsky. I’d seldom seen him so interested and attentive. “Don’t you think,” he suddenly asked, “that we’ll at last achieve immortality?” I was astonished, and I mumbled a skeptical comment. He thrust his jaw forward with that hypnotic insistence so familiar to anyone who knew Mayakovsky well: “I’m absolutely convinced,” he said, “that one day there will be no more death. And the dead will be resurrected.”
—  Roman Jakobson, “On a Generation That Squandered its Poets” (trans. Edward J. Brown)
Week 3: Culture & Linguistics

      One key theme that I found in the readings is linguistics, its relation to culture and social class. I assume that these common themes are vital to “explore the relationships among the ways we talk about the world and how we understand and live in it”. We must understand linguistics (science of studying human language) and that language is not only tied to culture, but it also shapes a society’s perception of the world.

      From my understanding Sapir’s “Status of Linguistics as a Science” is centered on the Indo-European linguistics and how the study of Indo-European linguistics has created a foundation/formula of how to study other languages. Sapir further discusses the importance of linguistics as a science in understanding and studying different cultures. “The network of cultural patterns of a civilization is indexed in the language which expresses that civilization” (209).  I do agree with this, last semester I took Communication 303 and 490, both of these classes were focused on communication and culture. Different cultures do view things differently according to their language. “No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality” (Sapir, p. 209). For example, both of these classes focused on Asian cultures. In many Asian cultures there is no exact translation for Sir, Madame, Mr. and Ms. Instead, older men and women are regarded as “Aunt” and “Uncle”. I think this shows that the language and labels that culture’s use can greatly affect perception. In our society, generally for us to call anyone an “aunt” or an “uncle” they must be related to us or have close family ties. 

While reading these articles I couldn’t help but think about the discussion about “context” and “cow” we had the first day of class. Things may have different meanings in different contexts, but it is also important to understand that in studying language and culture. The way we express ourselves through words have a large way of how we perceive the world and society. 

I found Halliday’s article to be interesting, but not clear. The idea of different classes of society speaking different codes is not an entirely new concept. The article focused on Bernstein and his research on social class and linguistics and the differences in the way children learn to mean. I would like to discuss this more in class. Does he mean, the way we express ourselves and our emotions, (desires, wants, commands) related to our class? Confused. 


The Sorrow of Love

by W.B. Yeats

The brawling of a sparrow in the eaves,
The brilliant moon and all the milky sky,
And all that famous harmony of leaves,
Had blotted out man’s image and his cry.

A girl arose that had red mournful lips
And seemed the greatness of the world in tears,
Doomed like Odysseus and the labouring ships
And proud as Priam murdered with his peers;

Arose, and on the instant clamorous eaves,
A climbing moon upon an empty sky,
And all that lamentation of the leaves,
Could but compose man’s image and his cry.

L'importanza di guardare il dito, piuttosto che la Luna

«Si può dunque dire che è nella catena del significante che il senso insiste, ma che nessuno degli elementi della catena consiste nella significazione di cui è capace in quello stesso momento».

Jacques Lacan, L'istanza della lettera dell'inconscio o la ragione dopo Freud, in Scritti, Einaudi, Torino 2002, p. 497.


Siamo inchiodati al simbolo che insegue il senso, come Achille la tartaruga. È stato detto tanto tempo fa, nel 1957, ma ancora oggi la sentenza mantiene al sua attualità. Lacan sostiene che il senso esiste, ma sottostà alla parola, le è subordinato. Per trovare il senso dobbiamo sempre usare una parola per indicarlo. È la catena significante.
In altre parole guardiamo sempre il dito, mai la Luna. Come un occhio strabico, arriviamo a fissare la Luna (un senso c'è), ma dobbiamo continuare a mantenere lo sguardo sul dito (non si smette mai di parlarne), proprio per non perdere di vista la Luna. Ma ciò non ci rende stolti, soltanto però se guardiamo il dito consapevoli che non possiamo fare altrimenti.
Slavoj Žižek porta spesso un esempio efficace per raffigurare questo strano mix di incanto e stupidità, il fatto che il θαυμάζειν (thaumàzein), lo stupore, non sta nell'essere meravigliati del sole che sorge, piuttosto che il parlarne non smette di meravigliarci: il sole sorge sempre uguale, da miliardi di anni, che noia! Piuttosto è il raccontarlo che non ci annoia.
La storia è quella sempiterna del rovesciamento: un prototipo del razionalista laico, in questo caso il fisico Niels Bohr, tiene da sempre un ferro di cavallo sopra l'ingresso di casa (o nel laboratorio).

- “Perché? Proprio tu?” gli domandano i colleghi, stupiti.
- “Perché anche se non ci credo, dicono che funzioni” sentenzia il fisico.

Non si tratta di un “non è vero ma ci credo”, quello lo dice lo stolto che non sa di essere stolto. Piuttosto è “non è vero, non ci credo, ma funziona”.
Significa che possiamo crogiolarci quanto vogliamo nella rivoluzionaria scoperta antropologica che il linguaggio (in senso lato: tutto ciò che indica un senso rispetto a ciò che ci urta, un qualunque oggetto) non sia altro che un'invenzione, e con esso tutte le culture, le religioni e le istituzioni che sul simbolo - ciò che mette (βολή, getta) insieme (σύμ) significante e significato - basano se stesse. Possiamo fare gli illuministi quanto vogliamo, possiamo cinicizzare il mondo all'infinito, scetticizzare su ogni cosa, dall'alto della consapevolezza che c'è un sacco di oppio in giro tra i popoli.
Ma, checché se ne dica, il dito resterà sempre lì, possiamo amputarlo, ma sarebbe un orrore.
È vero, il dito ci rende stolti. Ma sarebbe davvero da stupidi ritenere che serva solo a distrarci, dimenticando che è lo stesso dito con cui si manda a quel paese.