Interpretation, Deconstruction, and Ideology: An Introduction to Some Current Issues in Literary Theory

By Christopher Butler | Go to book overview

3.2 'Leda and the Swan'; Three Approaches

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.

Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

M. A. K. Halliday attempts a linguistic description of parts of this poem.1 He is interested in the main in two of its features; its use of 'the' and the distribution of its verbal items. The latter will perhaps make the contrast between linguistic descriptions and interpretations of the text most strikingly. Halliday says; 'most of this poem, especially the first ten and a half lines, is organised in nominal groups; they account for 69 of the 83 words in this first part. There are 15 verbal groups in this poem, and in addition four words of the class 'verb' operating directly in the structure (as opposed to being rankshifted into) nominal groups ('staggering', 'loosening', 'burning', 'broken').' He then gives a table of these verbal groups, showing that if they are ranked on a scale from the most 'verbish' of all, the finite verbal group in free clause, to the most attenuated, 'subordinated altogether to the nominal element without even the formality of a rankshift', then 'Leda', compared to samples from 'His Phoenix' and Morte d'Arthur, has a 'preponderance of nominal groups' so that its 'verbal items are considerably deverbalised'. Halliday remarks that 'Of various short passages examined for comparative purposes, the only one showing a distribution at all

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Interpretation, Deconstruction, and Ideology: An Introduction to Some Current Issues in Literary Theory
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • 1 - Implication 1
  • 2.1 - Metaphor in the Text 8
  • 2.2 - Metaphor in the Language 19
  • 3.1 - Linguistics and Interpretation 26
  • 3.2 'Leda and the Swan'; Three Approaches 36
  • 4 - The Text and the External World 46
  • 5.1 - Deconstruction and Scepticism 60
  • 5.2 - Ambiguity and Self-Contradiction 66
  • 5.3 - Free Play 77
  • 5.4 - Norms for Interpretation 83
  • 6.1 - Ideology and Opposition 94
  • 6.2 - Hidden Ideology 103
  • 6.3 - Marxism and the Dominant Ideology 110
  • 6.4 - The Moral and the Political 121
  • Notes 137
  • Bibliography 154
  • Index 157
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