10.06.2009

Colorful Red Objects Wake Gracefully

I read a story that, with slightly carefuller definitions, could've been dead-on. The New York Times article was titled, "How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect." I don't even mind that the writer, Benedict Carey, doesn't clearly define "intellect," or that "sharpens" is a very non-specific metaphor. I'm interested in making sure that we distinguish between "nonsense," which looks like this:
afdjkl1-1-110010101ajdfklasdjfkdddkdkdkka;ieruabbaabba!!!
...and the stuff that actually/probably "sharpens" the "intellect," which looks like a poem by Mary Leader. I f*ckin' dare you linguist-scientists and men and women of powerful words to read your whole way through that poem without accidentally sharpening your intellect in the process. After you click on that link, you might have to click once more to see the poem.

I'd bet dollars to dimes that looking at sheer and utter nonsense like my "afdjkl1-1..." phrase above doesn't sharpen the intellect much. Then the question is, what is it about Mary Leader's poetry that does sharpen the intellect?

3 comments:

Wishydig said...

i don't understand you're apparent aggression towards linguists.

nor do i see how you consider mary leader's poem in any way nonsensical.

Casey said...

Haha... "aggression?" I didn't mean it like that. I was just fired up.

But, for the sake of conversation, I'll say: I suspect that Linguists don't have ways of handling what the theorists call aporia very well. How can a writer create a "meaning-impasse" that is not meaningless, but that creates its meaning by some deft kind of linguistic alteration?

If I re-write the end of "Casey at the Bat" to say, instead of the original, "Mighty Casey has struck out," something like, "Mighty Casey hit one out!" -- that's not meaningless, but it doesn't create the kind of response the Times was talking about. It's too meaningful. And if I say "Mighty Casey ate a garbage book," that's not meaningful enough. But if you recognize that Mary Leader's poem is not nonsense, you might wonder how she is able to discover that middle-territory between meaningfulness and meaninglessness... how can language do that? How can it create that experience of aporia for listeners?

See, I think a poem like Mary Leader's -- which I only consider "nonsense" if we use the definition of the writer of the Times article -- should be very interesting to a linguist, precisely because it seems to be pushing around and trying to figure out what kinds of structures "work." And I'm sure you know that; but I doubt you'd write an article on it... (?)

I could be wrong, but insofar as linguists are scientists, I can't see how they can take any account of something as mysterious as "how Kafka's work influences his readers."

[But no, really: I'm sorry if I sounded aggressive. I just know that you and Santos are my only readers, so I have a good sense of my audience... so feel free to give me a lecture. But then, explain what a linguist can say about this ethereal/experimental kind of language. And here's what I think I'm digging at: if you claim that you can understand the dynamics of Mary Leader's poem in linguistic terms, then you ought to be able to assemble a similar production without much trouble. If you can't, why not? What's going on in that poem that makes it fall outside the space where a linguist sets his sights?]

Casey said...

And, I don't understand how you can not understand how I consider Mary Leader's poem nonsensical... at least if we're using the definition as it was given in the Times article.

Even if I grant that it stays within the structures of universal grammar, you wouldn't say that a "couplet" like the following makes much sense:

"You, Moraine, enact slow kettle. / Wail, Poor Departure, duplicate daughter."

Or actually, this is a good example: what makes that couplet more meaningful than "ajfdlaj;a333"?

Okay, I can phrase it now: I'm searching for a linguistic definition of the "borderlines" of meaningful signification... when does language become nonsense?