Academic journal article Connotations : a Journal for Critical Debate

Poetry and Poeticity in Joyce's "The Dead," Baudelaire's le Spleen De Paris, and Yehuda Amichai

Academic journal article Connotations : a Journal for Critical Debate

Poetry and Poeticity in Joyce's "The Dead," Baudelaire's le Spleen De Paris, and Yehuda Amichai

Article excerpt

In this article I analyze various aspects of poeticity in James Joyce's "The Dead," especially in its concluding paragraph. To illustrate my general argument about the multi-faceted relationships between poetry and prose, I also examine three paragraphs from Baudelaire's Le Spleen de Paris and two poems by Amichai, which deliberately problematize the conventional distinction between poetry and prose. Whereas the notion of poeticity is difficult to define, it is still a useful term for analyzing a variety of poetic texts, and it is especially pertinent to different kinds of "amalgamation" of poetry and prose. The term poeticity refers to the place in which certain linguistic patterns of parallelism and/or tense semantic relations of incongruity and paradoxes meet an attentive reader tuned to these textual characteristics. Thus, it is a complex notion that involves formal, semantic, and pragmatic aspects. If certain textual qualities are lacking, it will be difficult for a reader to experience the text's poeticity; without an attentive reader, the text's poeticity could be lost despite the fact that the text contains certain formal and semantic features. The term refers to the complex process by which a string of words is endowed with a poetic "aura," and can thus help us understand how prose is "transformed" into poetry.

When Roman Jakobson describes poeticity, he leaves, at one point, straightforward language and turns to an analogy that I find quite suggestive:

For the most part poeticity is only a part of a complex structure, but it is a part that necessarily transforms the other elements and determines with them the nature of the whole. In the same way, oil is neither a complete dish in and of itself nor a chance addition to the meal, a mechanical component; it changes the taste of food and can sometimes be so penetrating that a fish packed in oil has begun to lose, as in Czech, its original genetic name, sardinka (sardine), and is being baptized anew as olejovka (olej-, oil- + ovka, a derivational suffix). Only when a verbal work acquires poeticity, a poetic function of a determinative significance, can we speak of poetry. (Jakobson, "What Is Poetry" 378)

The heterogeneity of the examples chosen in the following discussion illustrates how poeticity "emerges" from texts differing in language and specific literary traditions as well as in their formal framing: a long short-story (Joyce), a self-declared hybrid of poetry-in-prose (Baudelaire), and texts printed as half poems and half prose paragraphs (Amichai). Still, all these modern texts evoke (or, at the very least, attempt to evoke) a poetic effect that challenges traditional distinctions of poetry and prose. To paraphrase Jakobson's analogy: all these texts turn prosaic sardinka into poetic olejovka. Furthermore, as I will show, they all use two kinds of "oil" to produce poeticity: linguistic patterns of parallelism and deep semantic contrasts, notably paradox. In many cases, we encounter both of these two textual elements, but sometimes one of them is dominant. When deep semantic contrasts are developed in a text, the role of an attentive reader becomes more important for detecting the poetic effect, i.e. poeticity. In other words, these two kinds of "oil," especially the one that involves deep semantic relations, need an attentive reader to activate them.2 Thus, in the following discussion about the meeting ground of poetry and prose, I attempt to integrate the work of Jakobson (1960) about the important role of linguistic patterns of parallelism for creating poeticity with Brooks's emphasis on the place of deep semantic contrasts, notably paradox, in the language of poetry, and, finally, with an awareness of the active role played by readers (Culler) in producing the mysterious, yet quite familiar effect of poeticity.

Poeticity in the Conclusion of Joyce's "The Dead"

Anyone who has read Joyce's "The Dead" will have noticed that it is full of music and poetry: characters play the piano, listen to music, sing popular songs, talk about the opera, prepare to recite Unes from a poem, and reminisce about a song associated with a young, dead lover. …

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