Parallelism

Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Poetic Diction" and "On the Origin of Beauty: A Platonic Dialogue, in The Collected Works, Volume IV: Oxford Essays and Notes, 1864-1868, ed. Lesley Higgins.
The artificial part of poetry, perhaps we shall be right to say all artifice, reduces itself to the principle of parallelism. The structure of poetry is that of continuous parallelism ranging from the technical so-called parallelisms of Hebrew poetry and the antiphons of church music up to the intricacy of Greek or Italian or English verse. But parallelism is of two kinds necessarily—where the opposition is clearly marked, and where it is transitional rather or chromatic. Only the first kind, that of marked parallelism, is concerned with the structure of verse—in rhythm, the recurrence of a certain sequence of syllables, in metre, the recurrence of a certain sequence of rhythm, in alliteration, in assonance, and in rhyme. Now the force of this recurrence is to beget a recurrence or parallelism answering to it in the words or thought and, speaking roughly and rather for the tendency than the invariable result, the more marked parallelism in structure whether of elaboration or of emphasis begets more marked parallelism in the words and sense.And moreover parallelism in expression tends to beget or passes into parallelism in the thought. This point reached we shall be able to see and account for the peculiarities of poetic diction. To the marked or abrupt kind of parallelism we assign belong metaphor, simile, parable, and so on, where the effect is sought in likeness of things, and antithesis, contrast, and so on, where it is sought in unlikeness. To the chromatic parallelism belong gradation, intensity, climax, tone, expression (as the word is used in music), light chiaroscuro, perhaps emphasis: while the faculties of Fancy and Imagination might range widely over both kinds, Fancy belonging more especially to the abrupt than to the transitional kind class. (D.II.3, "Poetic Diction," p. 120 [Winter 1865])

Hopkins is just twenty-one when he writes this brief essay, which argues against Wordsworth’s view that “poetic diction scarcely differed or ought to differ fr. that of prose.”1 He seeks to revindicate “meter, rhythm, rhyme, and all the structure wh.2 is called verse both necessitate and gender a difference in diction and in thought” (120). Thence he comes up with the concept of “parallelism.” It is not his most popular concept, as it seems to have received less attention than the cryptic and more visibly novel “inscape.” It is also an uncannily familiar concept, as it immediately brings to mind, for those familiar, the axes of selection and combination that Roman Jakobson proposed in his “Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Disturbances” (1956). Hopkins likewise differentiates between “marked parallelism” (in “rhythm”) and “more marked parallelism” (in “words and sense”). Does the second not coincide with Jakobson’s axis of selection (allied with metaphor) and the first with Jakobson’s axis of combination (allied with metonymy)? Yes, insofar as rhythmic structures determine what must be put next in a rhythmic sequence. But I suspect that the fit is still inadequate. Let’s take a look at Jakobson’s clearest formulation of combination and contiguity in “Linguistics and Poetics”:

read more

Disfigurement

Cynthia Chase, Decomposing Figures: Rhetorical Readings in the Romantic Tradition (1986)
Disfiguration names the impossibility, coincident with the status of language as rhetoric or figure, of fixing a figure's referential status. It is inherently misleading to discuss and define disfiguration in this way, making abstract, ostensibly literal assertions about effects of interference with assertion or representation. It must be encountered instead by way of readings that attend to the vicissitudes of particualr tropes—the erosion, for instance, of the figurality of vital rhetorical figures, with the indetermination of meaning that this entails; for the stripping away of figurality is in no sense an emergence or restoration of literal language. It is, rather, a disruption of the logic of figure or form—not only a departure from representation, but the decomposition of the figures forming the text. (5)

I am reading this, in part, because of the magnetism of its title, and its key concept, disfiguration. I haven often written of the “figure of the Child” and I am not sure what it is about this word which makes it so necessary or so contagious. What is a “figure,” first of all? In French, its primary definition is of face, visage; in English, it is something more diagrammatic: “the form of anything as determined by the outline” (OED). There is something elegant in its neturality and wide range of significations, its ability to step in for something clean and mathematical (a cipher, un chiffre) or something mortal, made of skin and flesh and bones, something possible to mutilate, or something which is impossible to grasp altogether. And the definition cited above should give a sense of that—that even the word itself, disfiguration, is “inherently misleading to discuss and define,” that it must be “encountered,” and that it must be understood in proximity to the words “impossibility,” “erosion,” “indetermination,” “stripping away,” “[non]restoration,” “disruption,” “departure, and “decomposition.”

read more

Poetics of Romance

Patricia Parker’s Inescapable Romance: Studies in the Poetics of a Mode is an astounding book for anyone encountering the word “romance” in a poetic context for the first time. Here’s an extract from the Introduction:

“Romance” is characterized primarily as a form which simultaneously quests for and postpones a particular end, objective, or object, a description which Fredric Jameson approaches from a somewhat different direction when he notes that romance, from the twelfth century, necessitates the projection of an Other, a projet which comes to an end when that Other reveals his identity or “name.” […] When the “end” is defined typologically, as a Promised Land or Apocalypse, “romance” is that mode or tendency which remains on the threshold before the promised end, still in the wilderness of wandering, “error,” or “trial.” When the posited Other, or objective, is the terminus of a fixed object, as in a poem of Keats or Valéry, “romance” is the liminal space before that object is fully named or revealed. (4)

read more