I've been reading the Mary Leader poem I linked to in the post below this one. Go read it. Then look at this. These are the "comparable" lines from each of the six different "versions" of the poem:

(1) You, Sieve, enact slow departure.

Wail, Poor Kettle, duplicate crisis.

(2) You, Moraine, enact slow kettle.

Wail, Poor Departure, Duplicate Daughter.

(3) You, Kettle, enact slow moraine.

Wail, Poor Sieve, duplicate house.

(4) You, Departure, enact slow sieve.

Wail, Poor Moraine, duplicate maze.

(5) You, Punctuation, enact slow mother.

Wail, Poor Apartment, duplicate heaven.

(6) You, Presence, enact slow apartment.

Wail, Poor Mother, duplicate word.

[In my judgment, the meaning communicated here is not so much in the words as it is in the "underlying structure": there is some essential "motion" or "way" being told here -- some movement, some action. It's not in any of the words, it's literally between them. It's when, after a number of transformations, "Poor Apartment" becomes "Poor Mother." Whether it is an acting Apartment, or Mother, or Departure, is only part of what's working here... possibly a minor part.]

Anyway, in my comments I went a little crazy responding to a pretty simple question from Wishydig. In short, I'm trying to figure out whether Linguistics can give any account of how this poem "works." By "works," I mean, "creates the valuable sensation of intellectual impasse (identified in the article that I linked to below in the NY Times) in readers."

Because I'm convinced that this poem "does something" to careful readers that truly nonsensical representation (like, for example, "aasdkdkk39eiei////ddkd\...,..") does not do to readers. I'm trying to understand how Mary Leader creates that effect.

Now if Linguistics can contribute to the conversation, I imagine it will say something very general like, "The effect is created by using words in unusual ways," but that suggests a kind of formulaic substitution would get the same effect. A linguist might produce six variations like this, I imagine:

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

Bright red ideas sleep furiously.

Furious red sleepers with bright ideas.

Ideas furiously sleep green color.

Colorful gray hypotheses whine difficultly.

Difficult sleep greens furious Brightness.

But -- and I'd love to test this the way the Times writer reports "scientists" are testing subjects exposed to "nonsense" -- I suspect that these six variations do not create the same kind of effect that Mary Leader's poem does. I half-joked with Wrangler about this stuff this morning, and suggested that we should really start testing which literary works produce the desired effects (measurably increased awareness after reading). I'll be the first literary scientist.

Here's my hypothesis, and it's a hypothesis I suspect a linguist would deem dubious: Mary Leader's poem would create measurably greater awareness than the string of six variations I created in a few minutes there.

What I want, of course, is to get back to the question: how the heck do Kafka and Mary Leader make a little slow shot of adrenaline leak up the back of my neck and into my forearms -- and can a linguist teach me how to write like that?

UPDATE: I deserve the sixth or seventh ring of hell for talking at such length about this. Plus, I think I'm wrong about most of what I'm saying. Forgive us our trespasses.


Insignificant Wrangler said...

Following this thread, I think I finally understand how you watch Lost. I'm not looking for anything to add up here, or any semblance of a plan. I am just enjoying the ride. Keep on trespassin'.

Casey said...

Yes, yes! -- that's the ticket. Haha.